Mighty Life List
Jan 12 2011

Getting My Health in Order, Part V: Diet and Supplements

Yep, we’re still talking about my health, so you might find someone else to stand next to at the cocktail party for a while. Getting healthy is on my life list, so here’s Part I: Ow My Everything Hurts, and Part II: Acupuncture is Not Scary, Part III: Dentists Are Kind of Scary, and Part IV: I Should Get Off the Couch. Please join us for this installment of “Oh, My Aching Back,” where we give up doughnuts, french fries, and hope.

I was blessed with a mother who told me my body was gorgeous until I believed her, plus a nutzo metabolism that kept my weight in check until I was about 19. So when I say my diet was poor until I was 25, I mean potato chips for breakfast, Top Ramen for lunch, and a sensible shake (plus Bacon Cheddar Burger with fries) for dinner.

When my metabolism finally wised up and started storing fat when I used heavy cream on my cereal, I was at a loss. I had to re-learn how to cook, but I had no grasp of nutrition. My first bit of education came before I knew I had health issues, when I finally went on a diet.

Understanding Nutritional Value

I gained about 15 pounds in college, which was no big deal because I looked like a pre-pubescent boy before that, and it was nice to finally have boobs. After college, I gained another ten pounds, cringed when I saw my upper arms in a photo from a friend’s wedding, and decided it was time to apply the brakes.

I tell you all this because Weight Watchers Online was my first education in eating well. If you’re not familiar with the program, they assign a point value to every item of food based on a formula that involves fiber, nutritional value, and so on.

At the time I knew things like donuts were bad for me, but I had no concept of how bad. I mean, it’s not like they were dusted with rat poison. But a filling, healthy meal on Weight Watchers at the time was about five points. A Dunkin’ Donuts doughnut? Eight Points. Starbucks doughnut? Twelve. As I logged my food for the day, it was a passive nutritional education. I now have a basic understanding of what’s bad for me, and what’s reprehensible.

I still use Weight Watchers whenever I need to lose weight, which is often because I need to stay slim to avoid taxing my joints unnecessarily. Yet another reason to overhaul my diet.

Eating Well

After dieting, I had a basic idea of how food worked, but I didn’t apply that knowledge except when I was trying to lose weight. As I mentioned, when my health tanked, I realized how bad things were because I tried the Quantum Wellness cleanse and felt amazing. Because I found that diet too restrictive to maintain, I needed a simpler way to eat better.

Everything I know about how my body interacts with food is from Dr. Oz’s You on Diet, which has specific recommendations for how to adopt a healthier diet overall.

Key points that stuck with me:

-I try not to keep food in my house if I know it’s hurting my body. If I want some potato chips, I can put on my sneakers and walk to the damn store.

-I avoid foods with any of the following in the first five ingredients of the label: 1. simple sugars 2. syrups 3. white flours 4. saturated fats 5. trans fat. Friends, unless you’re shopping at a seriously hippie store, this pretty much eliminates packaged food, which I found shocking. I won’t buy anything at all with high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, but after about a year with brown rice pasta, I just found it too difficult to give up regular pasta. Still, I eat maybe a quarter of the packaged food I used to. I just do the best I can.

-Standardize one or more of my meals. I pick a healthy breakfast (smoothie) or lunch (salad, turkey sandwich) and eat the same thing every day. Bam! Half my day is healthy by default.

-Trans fats are terrible for you not only because they’re extremely caloric. Your system doesn’t actually register them as food. So no matter how much you eat, your body never releases the chemicals that tell you you’re full. Yikes.

-I keep water in front of me all day long, and have a small dishes of nuts around so I can eat a few about twenty minutes before a meal. It triggers your body to release satiety chemicals, and most nuts are crazy good for you.

If you want a starting point, here’s Dr. Oz’s Ultimate Diet, which closely mirrors the book’s tenets on healthful eating. (If weight is your main health challenge, you’ll find specific weight management tips here.)

Vitamins and Supplements

By the time I started acupuncture, I was already taking a enough supplements and vitamins to stock a co-op. I’d been reading Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Life site, and I adopted lots of her recommendations (which I can’t find anywhere now, grr). As symptoms pop up, my acupuncturist suggests foods and supplements that can help, and they do.

My general rule for supplements is that I want my body to recognize them as food. I try not to swallow anything synthetic that my immune system may try to attack, so I look for vitamins made of whole foods. They’re more expensive, but I think of it like filling prescriptions.

Every morning I take a:

Women’s One Multivitamin
B-Complex – to battle stress hormones and boost immune function
Grape seed extract – to build artery walls and help with bruising, which works
Algae – recommended by my acupuncturist to “build blood”
L-Lysine – to keep cold sores at bay, and it’s incredibly effective
Calcium – suck it, osteoperosis
Vitamin E – for the heart and skin
Glucosamine Chondroitin – to build cartilidge

I also take acupuncture herb capsules for chronic knee and ankle pain. I take three at a time, three times a day in conjunction with the Glucosamine for my joints.

The herbs and Glucosamine have really worked miracles for me when I take them correctly. You’re supposed to take Glucosamine three times a day with food, which seemed so arduous. Then a few weeks ago I was having trouble walking and worried I might need another knee surgery. So I set three alarms on my phone and put some pills in my purse so I always had them with me. Such an easy solution, I feel stupid for waiting so long to just do it, and after just a week of taking my supplements the way I’m supposed to, my joints are functional again.

Three or four mornings a week, I also make a smoothie and add Flax Seed Oil for heart and brain function, a little ground flax seed for the same thing, and sometimes a little Psyllium Husk for fiber.

If you’re wondering what you should be taking, Dr. Oz’s vitamins and supplements chart is a useful resource. It’s comprehensive, so don’t let it overwhelm you; put together a routine based on where your health needs boosting.

At first, I felt weird about taking so many “pills.” I’m the kind of person who resists taking a Tylenol when i have a headache. But I’ve come to think of vitamins as food in condensed form. I’d rather take a handful of condensed food than have kale at every meal.

I bruise less easily, get fewer cold sores, have more energy, don’t really have issues with eczema any more, and have had surprising healing in my joints.

Questions

That’s about it. I’ve also been drinking only decaf coffee and tea aside from green tea, and I’m considering cutting out wheat again to see if it would dramatically effect my energy, but I’m taking it slowly. I also bought Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, which I’ve been avoiding reading because of the moral quandry I know will ensue.

In general, I’m trying to give my body better building materials, and if you’ve read this far, you probably are too. So here’s what I want to know from you:

- How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?

- Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?

- Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?

Oof. This has been a long haul, no? Thanks for sticking with me.

120 Responses to “Getting My Health in Order, Part V: Diet and Supplements”

  • Jennifer Says:

    Due to family history of depression and ADHD, I take 1000 mg of vit. D and high quality fish oil capsules every day. I believe they definitely help my mood – especially during the winter months.

    Vit. D is a great immunity booster too – my kids and I have had less illness the past two winters since we started taking it. I also take a B-complex, calcium, and vit. C.

  • Rebecca Says:

    Both In Defense of Food and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and helped me change the way I think about food. In Defense of Food greatly reduced the amount of processed food we eat and the amount of meat in our diet. I highly recommend both.

  • Amy Says:

    15 minutes in the sun before 11 am does more to combat osteoperosis due to Vitamin d you will absorb than any supplement.

  • Kimberly Says:

    I’ve found your “Getting My Health in Order” series to be extremely interesting, and this section on eating and vitamins has been particularly useful for me. My joints (my knees specifically, too) have been remarkably painful in the last two years too. I’m going to explore supplements to address that. Thanks for the tip.

  • Amy Says:

    Hi Maggie,

    This has been a very informative, very funny series. Thanks for sharing so much personal detail. This is my new favorite cookbook, which may be in line with your food philosophies:

    http://www.amazon.ca/Wholesome-Kitchen-Ross-Dobson/dp/1849750351

    As for me, I have to make non-temporary changes to my diet pronto. I had a baby 17 months ago, am still nursing, started a crazy (but great) new job in October and it’s winter here in MTL. Sugar is my new best friend, and that’s got to change.

    And I want to start swimming again. And running. But first, I need to find a sitter!

    All the best to you and yours.

  • kate Says:

    This is so great of you to share, Maggie! So many people struggle with weight and/or health issues; if even one person who reads your blog is inspired to make changes toward better health, well, I’d say you deserve a big glass of champagne and a pat on the back!

    As for your questions:
    I haven’t really read much about food because I really really like food and am currently subscribing to the “ignorance is bliss” strategy.

    That said, I do use common sense. We buy only organic milk, eggs and most produce and we seriously limit our intake of processed food. (Sorry, you’ll have to pry my Ben & Jerry’s from my cold, dead fingers). Otherwise, I eat (mostly) what I want but half of the portion I think I want. And I run 5 days a week.

    I do take suppliments, which I learned about from my ND and my acupuncturist and I have seen a great improvement in, for one, the way my body processes (and used to CRAVE) sugars and carbs.

    Again, thanks for having this conversation and good health to you!

  • Kara Says:

    I am also not good with nutrition – I’ve always been chubby, though. Just never really learned how to eat. The mechanics of healthy eating are just so much to take in. That said, I’m trying to get healthy myself, so it’s a change I’m making. Slowly.

    To address the questions specifically:
    I’ve read part of the You on a Diet book – I have a friend who is a NP that recommended it, so I picked it up. I just haven’t read it all yet. Bad Kara. My other knowledge comes from logging in my food intake daily and going “holy crap! Where did all that fat/sodium/calories come from?!” and reassessing whatever I ate that was REALLY bad for me.

    Like I said, I’m in the process of making a permanent change in my eating habits. I tend to eat vegetarian at least one day a week by accident (though sometimes I can manage a meat-free day that also includes exactly zero vegetables). Trying to increase my fruits & veggies. I’m on week 6 without any soda in my system (which was the last holdout in the HFCS wars).

    I take supplements, but will be checking the list to make sure I’m getting the proper amounts of things.

    That got long, too. Whew.

    Thanks for sharing your “get your health in check” journey, Maggie. It’s on my life list, too. I just need to restart it.

  • findingmagnolia Says:

    We’ve made a lot of non-temporary changes in the way we eat, and they don’t seem weird to me anymore until I’m pressed for time and try to find a certain food at Target (none of the bread is okay with us–NONE). We don’t do any high fructose corn syrup or trans fats, just like you, and we also avoid non-organic soy and corn products because we’re not into GMOs. This means that there are very few quick options for dinner and that a lot of other things are limited. We cook at home a lot, and we accept that eating well is going to cost more than eating a conventional American diet. We feel better all around, and even on days when it is stressful getting meals on the table (as is the case often since we are new parents), I don’t regret our choices at all.

    I know I could stand to consume less sugar (fair trade, organic sugar will still make you chubby–imagine that!) and less caffeine, but for now I am giving myself a little bit of grace as we adjust to life as parents and suffer through the bitter cold of a Kansas City winter. In the springtime, I’m sure sitting on the sofa with a homemade mocha won’t be the only thing that sounds absolutely divine to me. If nothing else, I’ll at least want to take a walk while holding my delicious drink.

  • Nichole Says:

    Weight Watchers was where I initially learned about nutrition, too, although the 40-plus extra pounds I’m currently toting about would suggest it didn’t sink in so well. (I’m currently doing WW again; maybe the 1,000th time’s the charm.) I’m supposed to take Vitamin D and a c’mon-get-happy supplement daily, but a combination of laziness and cheapness means I haven’t been taking them lately.

  • Fatemeh Says:

    I’m a big believer in listening to your body.

    I don’t crave carbs the way some of my friends do, so I don’t succumb to the bread basket, just because because it’s there. And, I’ve been known to get oysters or pate instead of dessert because I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

    On the other hand, I need and crave animal protein in a big way (I’d say every 4th or 5th meal has a meat component), so I have to be mindful about EVERY other fat/protein I eat. And, I try my hardest to avoid CAFO meats, keeping it as local/sustainable as I can.

    Good on you for working so hard to bring your life and health into balance, Maggeh. It’s not easy to do.

    - Fatemeh

  • EmmaC Says:

    This has been a great series, Maggie. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I, too, first learned about nutrients and food by doing Weight Watchers. It totally changed the way I thought about how I ate – in a good, healthy, and life-changing way.

    I recently read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and it gave me a lot to think about. Is it possible to stop thinking about food as nutrients? Do we want to? How much can we really trust the doctors/media/scientists/food industry for telling us what’s good and healthy? What really IS healthy, anyway? I feel like I need to go back and re-read this book a few more times to really GET what he’s talking about. Also, I’ve been avoiding reading Eating Animals for the same reasons as you.

    I don’t currently take any supplements or vitamins, though I have in the past. Honestly, I never noticed any difference in energy, appetite, or overall health while I was taking them, and so many studies have come out about how vitamins aren’t really that effective anyway (but then again, do I really trust the scientists? Bwaahhh!). Maybe if I start working with a health professional who I really trust and respect, and they recommend a certain supplement, I’ll try taking them again.

    Thanks again for the series. Stay in good health, ma’am!

  • Kathleen Says:

    Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food changed my life – you can also check out his condensed version of the book called Food Rules.

  • samantha Says:

    I try to walk the line between being sensible about what I’m eating and obsessing about it, because I know that thinking about these things too much is a trigger for my old eating disorder. It helps that I use a produce delivery service, which makes it almost impossible to not eat locally and organically. Really, trying to keep things local has forced a change in my eating habits more than anything else. And I’m a slow eater, which is my most useful thing for portion size.

    I’ve always been really bad about taking supplements and drinking enough water, but my friend started healthmonth.com and I’ve found that making my goals into a game with a community has helped keep me accountable for doing them. (Although I skipped December and January because: holidays.) I definitely noticed a difference when I started slacking off on the supplements, so I’m going to start again next month.

  • Kristy Says:

    Awesome post. I have been on a similar path for the last 9 months. I have been reading a lot and checked out food documentaries on Netflix for info. The site that I get the most valuable info though is http://www.drmercola.com.

    I also just found this blog and I think it’s going to become one of my new favs: http://www.wordofwisdomliving.com/

    Keep up the great work :D.

  • sugarleg Says:

    Rancho La Puerta in Tecate Mexico. Go there. It changed my life.

    Thank you for sharing all of this. We only get this one body!

  • LisaB Says:

    In Defense of Food (combined with the documentary Supersize Me) helped make major changes in my diet. Fast food is very rare now, and I’d say I’m eating no-meat meals at least half the time (that’s partly an environmental/sustainability/moral thing, partly a healthy eating thing). Also, far less packaged food (funny how much of the grocery store that eliminates, eh?). And I’ve discovered there are vegetables beyond the carrot (i.e. kale, I love kale!) and grains like quinoa… how did I go so long not knowing about these things?

  • Catlin Says:

    I’m pretty obsessed with food, but more in a “it’s my favorite hobby” way than a crazy way. My mom taught me to be healthy – we were hippies and did yoga and ate bulgur wheat. I’ve always struggled with weight, though, partly just because of my metabolism/build and partly because I hate most types of exercise.

    Like so many who’ve commented, I’ve been inspired by Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. It’s really changed my life. However, I realized this Christmas that I’d gotten away from my Pollanish habits and needed to get back on track – hence a re-commitment to sustainable eating. I’ve lost 2.5 pounds already!

    Finally, I eat no red meat or pork. Basically — no mammals. I do this mainly for reasons of sustainability, but also because it’s just a part of my life. I’ve been a “flexitarian” for 17 years, half my life, and I don’t even know about meat anymore. I couldn’t order a steak if I tried.

  • Steve Says:

    Heather and I lost around 55 pounds between us last year and have kept it off (we’re starting another round this January) using the Line Diet (iPhone app is BangBang diet), eating a lot more stir fry and Thai, and ruthlessly controlling portion sizes. We got a CSA box, which challenged us to think more creatively about our meal planning (hate to throw out that $vegetable just because you didn’t use to eat it before). I started a situp/crunch program (200 situps, iPhone app) and lost that back pain that had been plaguing me for the last ten years; this year I’m going to do the 100 pushups app, I started it late last year but wrenched something in my left shoulder, so I took some time off to heal.

    One of the things that turned us around was a visit from my brother’s Thai friend, who made us Tom Yum Gai, which is what Thais eat when they’re feeling ill (like Americans do with chicken noodle) and after that we always had what we needed to make it in the house. So we kept making it. And branched out into curries. And bought a wok and started stir-frying everything. We still have a pork chop now and then, and still eat out in restaurants more than we should, but we learned how to be full on meals smaller than what we were used to. For so long we just bought a package of chicken breasts and I ate two and H ate one. We learned that we didn’t have to eat that way, froze more food, ate more veggies, and generally felt a lot better.

    Not a huge believer in supplements, though I did throw some into the smoothies I was making every weekday morning, nothing fancy just ginko biloba and something to promote liver health. Hard to say it made any difference, frankly. Was more just to be on the safe side.

    Also recommend “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan, it’s a concise primer on what counts as food and what does not, which boils down to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Pretty enlightening, especially to a kid whose mom couldn’t really cook and who survived for years on Chunky Soup and Mountain Dew.

    Keep it up!

  • Holly Says:

    Maggie, I’ve loved this series! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.
    I’m a vegetarian and am very aware of food – The Ethics of What we Eat is also a good one. The thing I need to pick up is exercise . . . I’ve worked out hard every day this year so far! Yippee!

  • Sarah Lena Says:

    I have found this all really interesting!

    (And now I sound like a spam comment.)

    But, really, I have. I’ve made a similar journey since early 2010, and now I’m dragging my family (kicking and screaming for the most part) with me this year. But I’ve been able to improve my life in so many ways, and more than anything, I want to teach my three year old boy that he has the power to not end up like ALL of his grandparents, who suffer from Type II diabetes, high-blood pressure, athritis, and all of the other shit that you get when you treat your body that way.

  • Catherine Says:

    Read Eating Animals. It sucks, but you have to just do it – it’s the one thing that has made the biggest impact on my decision to eat in a way that will support my body and my health, rather than damage it.

  • Candice Says:

    Thank you for this series – it’s been really great. In Defense of Food is a life-changing book, but I wish it was something I read years ago before I met my husband, when I would have overhauled my life on my own without worrying about what he’d eat. Has your family been a part of this journey in any way?

  • Elizabeth Says:

    Every month, I set aside one week wherein I eat no gluten, no nightshade vegetables, and no dairy foods (I’ll have a splash of milk in my single cup of coffee, but that’s it). Also, several times a year I’ll take a three to four week respite from refined sugar (I’ll eat fruit, but that’s it for sweets). Just a couple of mindful weeks of eating like that will do wonders for my body–I stop getting headaches, my digestion improves, and I have loads more energy. Why don’t I eat like that all the time? Because I love pasta, tomatoes, peppers, cheese, and sweets, and I now know how to eat those things in moderation (rather than polishing off a third of a baguette with a big chunk of Manchego cheese for lunch…or just as a snack). Life without cheese is sad, but life with too much cheese just hurts.

  • AmyB Says:

    Maggie-

    I have similar joint problems and I am about 10 year older than you. In addition to seeing a naturopath my primary care Doc recently suggested cold laser treatments for my joints. I CHANGED MY LIFE!. I highly recommend you check it out. Here is the info from my doc’s website I am sure you can find it in the Bay Area. http://www.dsfamilypractice.com/laser.php

  • dgm Says:

    I’ve long been interested in how food fuels the body but I can’t point to any particular source of knowledge other than I read articles and studies when the spirit moves me (I keep meaning to read Pollan’s books). I’m very physically active and need to feel good to be so, so I’m careful not to eat much processed food at all. I don’t crave sweets and I’m not so obsessed with any particular food that I have feel like I have to deprive myself of it. (However, when I was younger I loved bananas so much I didn’t eat them very often because I always wanted to eat more than one once I got started.)

    I do take supplements, some of which vary depending on the time of month. Critical for me: zinc (for immune system and to keep hormonal acne in check); magnesium (for many things, including eliminating migraine auras, as a muscle relaxant, to help my body absorb calcium, and cutting out sugar cravings) and fish oil. I take my vitamin D straight from the sun. I absolutely believe these have worked for me, especially the magnesium.

  • Meredith Says:

    This is a great set of posts. For the last few years I have been reading a lot of books by Dr. Hyman (Ultrametabolism and a recent one on your brain which was great). The gist of the books: you might be seeing 5 doctors for 5 different things which might all come back to the same issue (some imbalance or missing nutrient) and that food is our biggest drug, the best way to heal and stay healthy.

    I wish reading those books translated into automatic healthy eating – but it is a process, isn’t it?

    I went one step further than you – I did the acupuncturist when I knew no matter what drugs or how many – there are two weeks a year where my allergies are miserable. And she got my body out of it’s panic and able to cope with olive tree pollen (ironic considering olives are my fave food) in 3 sessions. WOOT!

    Then, on a whim, I saw the chiro in her office. They also call her an intuitive healer. I had been on antibiotics for 7+ years for acne. And 3 years ago it had stopped working. Having gone through every imaginable topical and internal treatment and being allergic to half the antibiotics out there, I just wanted off.

    The short end to this story – she tests for more than you doctor will and found an undiagnosed thyroid issue. Her ranges of normal are smaller, too. So when your doc says you labs are normal – she is not always on the same page.

    I am not really going for adjustments. But she has cleansed me of yeast – which was the probably cause of the breakouts, alerted me that I am gluten intolerant (and mal-nourished because of it), gotten me off the antibiotics, and possibly helped me avoid illness down the road.

    The tests were not prohibitively expensive. And it gave a fuller view of my health than a regular doctor. I know that my proteins are low and why (which even the lab commented on and my gp ignored). I know I need to avoid gluten for the rest of my life. But I also feel better than I have in a long time.

    This uptight eastbay capitalist is becoming a hippie and taking charge of my own health. I knew there was something that modern medicine was missing or ignoring, and I went out to find it.

  • Megan G. Says:

    The thing that I’ve found the most refreshing and surprising about these posts is your level-headed, slow-going, goal-oriented and non-evangelical outlook. Maybe it didn’t seem that way to you in real time, but it reads like that here.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years, and that gave me a jump start on learning about lots of different foods (to supplement the Cheetos). I’m really grateful for that.

    That said, I’ve started to eat fish, and I feel awful about it. The fish and chips I had at St. Patrick’s Day makes me culpable for the collapse of fish populations worldwide. http://tinyurl.com/4jdnusb

    I have found Michael Pollan’s straightforward “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” mantra helpful, too.

    And finally, I have cut out wheat for a while, and it’s shocking how much more energy I have.

  • Betty Says:

    I think the very best book on the livestock industry and how we should eat (and I’ve read most of them) is “Righteous Porkchop” by Nicolette Hahn Niman (she’s Bill Niman of Niman Ranch’s wife, and she’s not only a vegetarian but an incredibly intelligent woman and a wonderful writer). Forget Safran-Foer and Eric Schlosser, and even Pollan (although I love him too); this is the book for anyone who cares about producing and eating meat in a responsible way.

  • Lucy Says:

    You probably should have mentioned it’s very easy for you to eat this way if you live in a place like SF and you have the money to spend on healthy food and supplements.

  • Alicey Says:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mindless-Eating-Brian-Wansink/dp/184850117X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1294875605&sr=8-3 Amazing book for changing the way you think about dieting and losing weight, and with full scientific proof too. Definitely life changing for me – I’ve changed the shape of the glasses I buy and the location of chocolate biscuits in my cupboard. Well worth a read.

  • Sarah Says:

    Gluten wrecks me. I fall asleep about fifteen minutes after having any. It feels like I’ve been sand-bagged.

    I started reading about nutrition ten years ago and I’ve discovered that I get eczema from potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and green peppers. I also avoid fermented things and mold, so no malt, vinegar, or mushrooms.

    I gave up white sugar for a while but it’s too hard when I am very good about the no gluten, half the vegetables eaten in America, and oh, yes, I’m lactose intolerant.

    It’s a total beotch but I’ve managed to stick to the diet pretty well, off and on for about four years.

    Where it really got insane was when I developed congestive heart failure, which requires you to (if you want to live longer) reduce your sodium intake to a half teaspoon or less a day. That’s total sodium, 24 hours, and many foods have sodium in them already, so it’s not like you have a half teaspoon to sprinkle with.

    You would be shocked to know how much sodium is in your bread (even gf), soy milk, salad dressing, all packaged foods, etc..

    There are a few Amy’s Low Sodium entrees I can eat and that is it for the packaged goods.

    I eat a lot of rice. I am using http://www.heartofcooking.com to plan my meals and it’s awesome.

  • Charlotte Says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey! Recently (maybe 1.5 years ago?) I started eating paleo/primal–veggies, meats, eggs, fruit, some nuts. All the meat I eat is humanely raised (my grocery bills are INSANE), eggs are pastured, and when I have dairy it’s grass-fed, sometimes raw. I think that eating meat can be a sustainable diet-IF you don’t eat CAFO meat, IF you buy from local farmers with good practices. I’ve not read “In Defense of Food,” but in “Omnivore’s Dilemma” Pollan explores vegetarianism and comes to a conclusion I support that there can be sustainable carnivory.

    Anyway. The paleo diet has done wonders for me. I do not crave carbs/sugar any. more. (And I will eat birthday cake and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and so forth, I’m not a zealot!) I dumped the residual post-partum tummy in about nine seconds. I am not hungry/crashing at 4pm. My thyroid condition is improved. Check out Gary Taubes “Why We Get Fat” for a great analysis of the errors of a high-carb, low-fat nutritional approach…

  • dina Says:

    Yes, Michael Pollan, all of his books. But also Mark Bittman: http://markbittman.com/. He endorses “less-meat-arianism” and blows the whistle on the “standard American diet.” (His recipes that he publishes through the Minimalist podcast have changed how we eat for good!)

    Supplements: I’ve been taking Vitamin D as soon as the sun went away last October in Seattle, and haven’t had a cold or been sick since — although my husband has tried to share one with me at least twice. (Knocking on wood!)

    Thanks for this series — very informative and fun to read!

  • Barb @ getupandplay Says:

    Thank you for the link to the great Dr. Oz list of supplements. I totally believe in supplements but didn’t really have a great comprehensive list of what I should be taking!

  • Desiree Says:

    I am saying this because I care about you and your interest in things like turkey sandwiches: DO NOT READ EATING ANIMALS. I read a *review* of it that made me want to cry and go back to being a vegetarian. Even if *you* stop eating animals, this book is going to make you very, very, sad that *anyone* is eating animals that are processed in the way it describes. Which in a way is good, bringing awareness to the horrors of the meat industry. Except that there isn’t a way to stop these practices the moment you find out about them, so you will lie awake at night wanting a steak and hurting for the cows who are being processed into steak all at the same time.

    In the end this book is just going to hurt your feelings.

  • Nicole Says:

    It has been a long haul, but thank you so much for putting it out there.

    I want, desperately, to get my health on track but am wary of Doctors (you said that your family has problems being diagnosed, and it just hit the nail on the head. It’s amazing how sick a person can get of hearing, “nothing’s wrong!”). On top of that, I lack health insurance currently so until then, I’ll do what I can.

    In the end, though, thank you so much for sharing it all.

  • Pamela Says:

    A few years ago my doctor had told me while I wasn’t over weight exactly it would be wise to loss some weight before I hit the big 5-0 since it is harder to lose once you hit middle age.
    Around that time we saw a TV show on TCL (I think) I have no memory of his name or the name of the show but his weight lose premise really stuck with me and made sense.
    Basically it’s this
    1. Eat when you’re hungry (not STARVING)
    2. Eat what you want
    3. Stop when you’re full
    4. Get some sort of exersise 15 minutes a day
    Of course the tricky bit is the “stop when you’re full.” Basically I began to eat very slowly (new for me) and after a few bites would stop and ask myself “are you full?” If I wasn’t sure I would stop anyway–telling myself if I was hungry 5 minutes from now I could eat again.
    This taught me a couple of things: to pay attention to when I was hungry (not just what time it was) and to notice when I was full and to STOP eating. You would also think the “eat what you want” might be a problem…what if what I wanted was chocolate and fried chicken? Funny about that once I had permission to actually eat anything I wanted I found that there are only so many meals of chocolate and fried chicken I wanted. It also funnily enough meant I became more interested in the food I was eating.

    This also meant that I ended up eating way less desserts (my Achilles heel) because I was already full by the time dessert showed up.

    The exersise was also easy enough because we lived close enough for me to walk to work.

    It did take about 8 months but I did lose 30 pounds.

  • Monica Says:

    I also recommend In Defense of Food and also Pollan’s new book Food Rules which has a bunch of those common sense rules about food that you were mentioning.

    Also every once in awhile I do like to “kickstart” with a little cleanse/detox and one that I really like that doesn’t feel too limiting or extreme is the Fast Track Detox Diet. Seven days of “prep” diet to prepare your body, one day of fasting with the special juice to detox, and then three days to slowly introduce foods back into your diet. Only ten days and done every year or so and it really does make my body feel flushed out.

  • MFree Says:

    awesome series maggie! thanks for all the info.

    I was also of the vitamins creep me out group until I fessed up to my doctor about being equally scared of the flu vaccine and she recommended some food based vitamins which have kept me cold and flu free for 2 years. woot! Next she advised me to cut out all caffeine to combat my migranes. also worked. On my own we’ve cut out all packaged food. I agree pasta was the hardest but I found a super simple homemade pasta recipe which ultimately tastes miles better than anything store bought.

    Thanks again for all the inspiration!

  • Susan Says:

    Like you, we don’t buy anything with high fructose corn syrup or trans fat. In addition, we don’t buy any product with palm oil (really bad for your health and bad for the environment, see:
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/borneo/klum-photography )

    Our family has also been eating a lot less meat meat – more legumes and beans for protein.

  • alison Says:

    Excellent health series! I have just finished a two week vegan/no alcohol diet as a detox/reset button for my body. I too am working harder to treat my body better. I am lucky to be able to afford the time and food it takes to lead this life, and I try not to forget my good fortune.

    As a health care professional, I do have to point out that while glucosamine is beneficial in the maintenance of healthy cartilage, it does not help to grow cartilage. Just a small discrepancy, but wanted to make sure that people are well informed. Additionally, glucosamine is NO WHERE near vegetarian/vegan friendly. Most bottles indicate that there are animal products in the glucosamine, but some do not. Just an FYI.

    Keep up the excellent mentorship and inspiration!!

  • Steph Says:

    Thanks for sharing your health journey. I am also deathly afraid of the dentist and once I have the baby I’m carrying now I will keep your words “you don’t need to feel anything” in my head and just bite the bullet. So to speak. As for eating healthily, at times I try, I know more than I let on and I find it so hard as I’m very lazy when it comes to preparing food and will go for quickness and convenience most times… I really love the Dr Andrew Weil books as he combines his medical training with a more holistic view. I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to “alternative” as I don’t want advice at the expense of science. So I appreciate his balance as I also don’t fully trust the band-aid approach of western medicine. I try and buy healthy organic versions of the foods we eat a lot of (milk, eggs, meat, rice, bread). Also I had just seen a recommendation for Tracy Anderson’s post baby dvd and then you mentioned it – I’m hoping this will be a good way to get back into shape after the baby comes. I used a workout dvd after my first baby which was a very easy way to get regular exercise in to my week with a baby in the mix. Enjoying this series.

  • Susan Says:

    I forgot to mention that I’m glad someone besides me does the ‘standard meal’ thing. I eat Fage 2% Greek yogurt with homemade granold every day. I add fresh or dried berries, as well.

  • jenG Says:

    Last year, I made what I hope were not temporary changes in how I ate. I was running every other day and doing yoga, breakfasting on smoothies that came to include spinach and hemp protein and flax, and eating so, so well for months. I set up a system to make it easy, too–smoothies for breakfast, homemade bean and bacon soup for lunch, then something for dinner that wouldn’t irritate my stomach. (I’d had a stomach bug and just wanted my stomach to NOT HURT ever again.)

    I looked and felt better than I have in years. I have no idea how much weight I lost, but nothing fit and people gaped, so… It didn’t really matter, though. I just felt freakieng awesome.

    Late in the summer, I slipped into the old comfort foods when work and school got stressful and I got sick, and I’m back to feeling about how I felt when I changed everything. I know exactly how to feel better again, so now it’s just on me to do it.

    Most of what I know about food and nutrition I learned from the interwebs, experimenting, and books already mentioned here. My parents did well enough–I can’t eat dinner without a vegetable–but I was in my 20s before I ate fish that wasn’t breaded, frozen, heated, and dipped in something.

  • greta Says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey, not only has it been interesting but also inspirational – and useful! My nutrition knowledge has come mostly from my mom, who has gotten a lot of things right (eat whole foods, local/organic when possible, avoid processed and junk foods, avoid caffeine, exercise regularly) and has gotten some things wrong (portion size, too much protein, an occasional fad-ish diet like the blood type one.) It gave me a good start, and a healthy attitude about food in general, but with some misinformation. As a result I’m healthy but overweight, and for years I didn’t really didn’t know what to do – I was eating healthfully, what was the problem?

    I’ve started exercising, which makes a huge difference. Without any substantial diet change I’ve lost about 15 lb in 6 months, slow but steady. That’s encouraging, but then I started thinking more about food, and about food culture, and about how much emphasis there is on meats and proteins and whatnot. And I started thinking back to our forefathers, who would not have had the abundance of choices that we have today. They would have eaten a lot more staples (dried grains, beans, preserved vegetables, etc) and a small amount of meat to supplement that. That makes a lot more sense to me.

    Coincidentally, I heard a piece on NPR (I think?) with the author of The China Study, a book about nutrition based on extensive, well-conducted, well-cited research. His argument is that the research supports a plant-based diet as a way to improve health. He started out in animal nutrition and food science, and is not out to promote vegetarianism on any kind of ethical or economic grounds. His argument is purely health and nutrition based, and it’s very convincing. I don’t expect to go 100% vegetarian, but I am thinking more about how I can reduce the amount of animal products in my family’s diets, and save such things as occasional fare rather than a regular feature. It’s pretty readable, if you’re interested.

    That said, I’m not a fan of supplements. Since they’re totally unregulated, I’m a little skeptical of what’s in them, and I’m not convinced that taking a pill can replace eating the real thing. I do take a multivitamin, but that’s about it.

  • Pam Says:

    Food, Inc and In Defense of Food were game changers for us. We immediately switched to an organic diet and pantry. Packaged/processed foods are less than 1% of our house now.

    I found Perricone’s book/diet fairly compelling for awhile. It’s very mediterranean in nature, but the information about IN WHAT ORDER to eat certain things was interesting. His contention is many ailments stem from inflammation – and he’s not entirely wrong. The diet was easy to follow and tasty — though I shied way from his expensive skin care line.

  • Meg Says:

    Are we checking this off your list? Will there be a party? What will it entail? Will we all put down our laptops and do a Tracy Anderson dance routine while we take our supplements? I’m very excited and I think I speak for all of us when I say the internet needs details immediately.

    Also, I think you convinced one of my editors to do acupuncture. Or I did, hard to say. Regardless, I think you’ve done good.

    But really, here is what I do about the meat thing: I only eat free-range meet from farms I trust. It’s more expensive, but ethically I feel a lot better about it. Turns out I don’t have a problem with eating chickens that lived a happy chicken-y life, but I really do have a problem with eating factory farmed anything. That feels a little like mainlining misery into my body, and while that’s not a scientific description, science seems to back up the fact the free-range animals are way better for us. So it’s more expensive, and I eat less meat. And that’s probably ok too.

    But really, I’m waiting for details on the check-off party. Perhaps we will all do synchronized swimming? Excellent. I’ll wear a costume swimsuit.

  • Roxanna Says:

    Have you watched Food Matters? My brother sent me a link (it’s on Netflix) when he saw my post on supplements.

    I’ve just started supplementing again (I take Rainbow Light’s Complete because they give a kick of energy. I need energy.)

    I’m considering upping my D3 consumption. I miss the sun.

    I also take Biotin supplements when I want to grow my hair. They totally work.

  • Earth Girl Says:

    Glucosamine chondroitin is amazing. I mangled my right leg skiing when I was 31 and almost 30 years later, I was hobbling with arthritis in my right knee. Only one dose a day and I can garden on my knees again. I just got back from cross-country skiing tonight after playing with a one-year-old all day. I figure I can up the dose to the recommended 3 a day if needed. It doesn’t seem to work for everyone, but if you have joint problems, you need to see if it will work for you.

  • Sassafras Mama Says:

    I take a multi-vitamin and glucosamine; I should probably add calcium just because. And I know enough neurologists who take fish oil to do the same…..as for food rules, I’m the kid of granola parents, so my nutritional knowledge comes from the folks, supplemented by Michael Pollan’s works, especially In Defense of Food. I eat half portions of what I want and always eat 5-7 servings of veggies/fruits every day. Finally, I cook. So there is very little packaged food in our world.

  • Desi Says:

    I had to learn to eat as an adult, too. I’m designed to be slim, so I don’t really put on weight, but after a couple of decades of surgary, fried, packaged everything, I just felt so old. Sore, achy, grouchy, moody, tired, etc., etc., etc. Two things saved me: The duodenal ulcer that perforated and had me puking blood in my office (at age 26), and my kids’ food allergies. We have to serve whole, healthy foods because just about everything else makes them sick. So, I cook. A lot. My kids get to learn about where food comes from, and how it’s prepared, and we all get to feel a lot better.

    Thank you for sharing this series with us. It’s been a really interesting read!

  • Mallory Says:

    Nourishing Traditions cookbook/nutritional guide was life changing. No boxed, processed food. Period.

  • Christian Says:

    I changed my eating habits after having a baby. I wanted to set a better example. B/f him I would seriously grocery shop at Target. I love Michael Pollan’s guidance in Food Rules b/c he says having an eating plan shouldn’t be complicated. Unprocessed, as close to nature as I can get it is what I go by. I did cut out wheat and dairy with a finicky nurser then added yogurt and cheese back. When I go back to wheat I feel so tired and moody. I feel great, more energy at 37 than ever b/f – no afternoon fatigue. I take a multi, fish oil, vitamin d, probiotics daily, then whatever I need for whatever comes up.

  • nelking Says:

    I went decaf to prevent having continuous needle biopsies on breast lumps. My Mom suffered from fibroid cysts. After going through the stress and cost of having one biopsy I knew I needed a solution. The breast specialist, said well I’ve heard anecdotal stories that caffeine increases the frequency of fibroid cysts. That’s all I needed. Been fine for 3 years so far, plus I sleep better!

    Great series Maggie.

  • Alison Says:

    I would recommend keeping a food diary, it has really helped me get my eating habits back on track. I used to think that my diet was not that bad overall, but seeing everything written down in black and white made me realise that “occasional” treats had become a daily habit, and it showed me the woeful lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in my diet. Now I review what I have eaten over the past few days and if I want to go all out one day and eat nothing but pizza and muffins then I make sure the next few days are straight back to the good stuff. It has worked wonders for me in terms of energy levels and general wellbeing, without having to feel restricted in any way.

  • Traci Says:

    I’m reading The China Study now and it’s unbelievable. There is significant scientific proof that animal proteins make us sick. Why don’t we all know about this? Who knows. Lobbyists for powerful livestock and dairy industries, I suppose. I’d highly recommend reading it. It will change the way you look at food. I’m still mulling it all over and trying to decide how I can make it work for my family but believe me, you can’t go back once you read it.

    As for supplements, I take Vitamin D, magnesium, and fish oil. I was taking calcium until I heard about the studies linking calcium supplements to a 31% increase in heart attacks. I was just posting this on facebook earlier today, in fact. I’d missed the story and just came upon it by accident.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/29/eveningnews/main6726042.shtml

    Thanks for sharing your journey to health!

  • Jessica Says:

    Animal Vegetable Miracle changed my life. I just became more in touch with the seasons of foods and stopped eating anything processed. I shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets and Rainbow Market. I try to walk as much as I can instead of drive- not easy with 3 kids in SF, but they are getting older (2 5 year olds and a 16 month old) and better at walking with me. I take a multivitamin and an omega 3 supplement and when I feel a little down I take Vitamin B complex and Vitamin D and try to sweat and also make time to be lazy and snuggle with my kids. I drink water like it’s going out of style. My goal is to have a massage once a quarter and to try accupuncture this year. Thank you for your blog. It has literally picked me up and made me skip and grin more times than I can count.

  • Sue Says:

    Great article! Last year my husband took off 30 lbs and kept it off due to our diet change. We started eating alkaline. Most of the food we eat are too acidic. Our bodies are meant to be at a ph level that is a bit alkaline, but with the normal diet, most of us are acidic.

  • Daffodil Campbell Says:

    I have found acupuncture to be incredibly helpful in terms of getting my health headed in a – dare I say it – healthy direction.

    I am also an avid label reader. My biggest concerns are sodium and sugar. I hate corn syrup and I am uncomfortable buying food with a long list of ingredients made up of indecipherable scientific-sounding words.

    We eat a lot of whole foods – foods that do not have a lot of ingredients. I cook dinner almost every night, from scratch. I do not buy frozen prepared foods, or shelf stable prepared foods, and rarely do I buy regrigerated prepared foods – the exception being items like salsa and tomato sauce and salad dressings and the like. Condiments, mostly. Every meal is “balanced” to a certain extent. For example, the kids will have a bread, a dairy, and a fruit for breakfast. They have protein, fruit, veg, and maybe a carb for lunch. For dinner we have a protein and a veg, and maybe a carb. And we always have something for dessert, within reason.

    As much as I love my Yodels and Ring Dings, I don’t eat them anymore. (*sob*) We don’t buy soda or candy. I rarely fry things. But I don’t think I take “healthy” to an unpleasant extreme. We eat crap, but when we do I always make sure we are all aware of it, and that we follow up a bad choice with a better one.

    In the same way that you pick one healthy thing to eat every day, I pick my poison. I will knowingly select 1 item that has little to no nutritional value, but that I think I really want.

    Then I eat it, for days on end, when I feel that I need a treat. Until I am disgusted with myself or sick of it. Bye Bye Funyuns! (it took a few days, but I managed to say so long to my old fried friend).

    I guess I just try to be realistic, and not make food a huge issue. I have enough issues, I think.

  • Becky Says:

    It’s already been said several times, but seriously- read In Defense of Food. He just makes so much sense.

  • Sarah Says:

    I’ve taken B12 and zinc in the past to help with PMT. I would recommend always reading about supplements before taking them though. I bought some starflower oil capsules to help me chill a bit and then read about them online, the first point being practically “Don’t take these, Sarah” – they’re no good for those with epilepsy.

  • Amy Jo Says:

    I, for one, would like to thank you for sharing this hard won information. I’ve had joint issues, including 2 non-injury related knee surgeries, and once I pop out this baby I think I’ll try some of the supplements you’ve written about.

  • Emily Says:

    I’m going to chime in with several others and say: In Defense of Food. It will make you seriously rethink what we’ve always been told about food and nutrition. It’s well-written, well-researched, and a really terrific read.

  • Leslie Says:

    I learn more about food and what’s good for people by listening to the people I trust. They tell me what they eat and how they feel and what they’ve learned and I incorporate that along with my common sense about food. I’m no where near perfect, but getting better.
    I want to get rid of JUNK, permanently. It’s a challenge…
    I take supplements because though I’m not 100% convinced that they work, I find it likely that they do more good than harm. I hope that’s right because they’re expensive :)

    Good luck! And thank you for sharing the stories of what’s going on with you. I hope it will help others address their health concerns!

  • Kara Says:

    I don’t have a reading suggestion, but how about a watching one? I like “Good Eats” with Alton Brown. He talks a lot about the science of food and cooking and is really into natural and non-processed ingredients. He also has a couple of really good cookbooks out.

    I have made a permanent change in the way that I eat/shop. I haven’t bought bread at the store in almost 3 years. My husband and I make all of our bread, rolls, hamburger buns, etc etc at home. Having a breadmaker really helps with this one.

    Also, we don’t buy soda. Haven’t for years. We make our own (water, yeast, extract, honey) and it is dead easy. Of course, the husband and myself were already brewing our own beer, so it was just a small step from beer brewing to making root beer, birch beer, and ginger beer.

    I do take supplements – women’s multivitamin, calcium, and iron. I do feel that they make a difference, especially the iron, since I tend to have lots of problems with anemia and feel really low and sluggish if I don’t get enough iron.

  • latenac Says:

    Great series.

    - How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions? Harold McGee, Michael Pollan’s first food book, Alton Brown. I’ve always worked from the premise that knowing where my food comes from is ideal which also cuts out a lot of processed food. I also like reading EatingWell magazine b/c their nutrition stuff tends to be more sane their fad driven. We also belong to a CSA and buy meat from local farmers. Belonging to a CSA has helped up discover well really forced us to discover new veggies and what to do with them.

    - Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already? – No. I sort of feel that everything in moderation and eating sensibly is a lifelong goal. I don’t believe in detox or cleanses b/c our bodies already organs devoted to that that are doing it all the time. And a nutritionist told me any diet change where you are suddenly eating more fruits and vegetables is going to make you feel better. So that’s why it appear cleanses or diet fads work so quickly. I have long term diet goals that I work at every day in creating meals for me and my family.

    - Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work? I do take a multi vitamin but I don’t really believe they work. I don’t think your body processes supplements well or absorbs them well. I also think how food and nutrients work in our bodies is far too complex of a process to be able to isolate individual supplements that we can say our body needs in supplement form. Take huge Vitamin D craze now science is saying the research was bad and we actually don’t need as much vitamin D was woo doctors or even regular doctors were worrying we needed.

  • Mary Says:

    - How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?

    I went to a consultation with a doctor in NJ who has an MD and a PhD in biochemistry. He runs The Institute For Natural Health and Wellness, and it is a good place. He explained how metabolic pathways work and how refined food mucks them up. A year and a half of therapy previous to the appointment made me feel like it was actually a good idea to take care of myself.

    - Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?

    Yes. No artificial sweetners/HFCS, much more veggies, much less meat. I do the gluten-free vegan thing as much as I can stand it, then take a week off and eat bread, glorious bread.

    - Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?

    They freak me out (neon yellow pee!) but I take them. Vitamin D3 makes me feel like a superhero. I take about a dozen supplements.

  • Jackie Says:

    I’m terrible with food, but have always been in good shape and exercised regularly (until my 11 week old was born, I’ve really been slacking lately). I take what seems like a ton of supplements because I’m breastfeeding and want her to get all the nutrition I can give her: Prenatal vitamins, probiotics several times a day (at least three – my little one got thrush and I contribute its quick healing to these entirely), vitamin C, and calcium.

    Love this post.

  • steph Says:

    Maggie, thanks for sharing all this. I have no doubt it will help a lot of people address their health. I think there is a divide between people who really want to do the right thing for their bodies and people who want to be too cool to care about such things. I don’t think the latter is a healthy attitude.

    As for your questions, I have been taking supplements for over a decade, maybe longer than that, which is weird because I am 37. So that is nothing new to me. Also I like veggies and generally healthy foods, so that is not new to me either. My issues were alcohol, overeating (which had always been rewarded because I was so skinny as a child!), and exercise, all of which I tackled in 2010.

    I had been on a steady 1-2 beer a day diet for years (plus more on the weekend – 3-4). Nothing extreme, not enough to concern me as a “problem”, but it was a problem! I needed it when I got home in the evening and always thought about having another drink. I could still logic myself out of it and avoid hangovers and real “problems” but it was an issue that I needed to deal with. Also I just had an unhealthy attitude about it.

    So that plus overeating (2nds at every meal!) had me gaining 3-5 lbs a year. Do the math – that’s a lot of weight over time. Since my ultra-super-skinny HS days, I gained 65 lbs. The first 20-30 or so made me look healthy, but the rest (much as in your case) were excessive.

    What changed all this? My doctor told me my weight gain amounted to 100 calories a day. When he broke it down into a daily recognizable quantity, I could deal with it. So I stopped drinking during the week and stopped having 2nds. I drank fizzy water (San Pellegrino, Perrier, or just club soda!) to make it feel like I was actually drinking something (more exciting than water!), and I fixed my plate with reasonable amounts of food and just forebode myself to go back for seconds. I went to bed hungry a few times. After 2 weeks it normalized.

    I also decided to teach myself to swim. I went to swim laps one day and realized I really did not know how. I borrowed a video from the library and watched it. I practiced 1-2 times a week and within 3 months I had it. I am still learning, still getting the breathing and turning right, but I can call myself a swimmer now. Most of the time, though, I just brainlessly take myself to the pool – I don’t want to go. I find myself in the water thinking “what am I doing?” but I do it anyway. And I reward myself after (hot tub at the gym!). And I just keep going.

    So in 6 months I had lost 35 lbs. and now I have been doing this for a whole year. Yay me!

    Ah, but your questions were specifically about food. A good book is Michael Pollan’s Food Rules and if you want something more in depth, read his Omnivore’s Dilemma. It is about eating real food, pure and simple. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Bingo!

    As for the supplements, you bet they do work! I ran out of vitamin E and decided to wing it and started noticing a rapid decline in my skin. Take your vitamins, people!

  • tasha Says:

    Oh, yes. Oh yes do I take supplements. I have been battling surgery-induced hypothyroid for the past 4 years now (I had graves disease and they took my thyroid out…ugh, still pissed about that). So after many years of bad doctors,terrible fatigue, weight gain, etc I finally found one who is a nut about supplements (among other things). And now, so am I. I’ve lost weight, my hair stopped falling out and I’m not a complete and utter be-atch to be around. So yeah. Supplements. I like them. I feel like a walking medicine cabinet but it is so worth it.

  • steph Says:

    Excellent timing… maybe this will help some folks think about their food choices:

    http://www.dailyspark.com/blog.asp?post=what_20_will_buy_at_the_drivethru_and_at_the_supermarket

  • mar Says:

    My husband is a true convert with the glucosomine supplements – he swears by them. Definitely cured the everyday aching in his knees. It’s the only supplement he panics about if we run out! ;-)

    I sound like some lunatic, but I really like Dr. Oz. All of his solutions and answers – just. make. sense. He’s not extreme about anything, and his ideas are ones that can easily be worked into your everyday routines. Thanks for the reminder to check in with him (and myself!) again!

  • Andrea Says:

    Wow…this was incredibly helpful. I too am having all sorts of health issues. My dental records are embarrassing and just recently my body has decided it doesn’t want to digest anything I eat. I just requested the books you recommended and am optimistic that I can get my body in check. Thank you for sharing…..I feel so much better knowing I’m not the only person with weird health issues.

  • Rebecca Says:

    This series is really interesting. I have, like you, sort of come about this gradually. I was a skinny kid, then curvy once puberty really hit (16-18), then I went to college and walked everywhere and lost 15 pounds in 6 months, then I got really stressed and started subsisting on popcorn, ramen and frozen veggies and soda and dropped to 105 pounds, where I stayed until I met my husband, who inspired me to take up home cooking, with butter, which boosted my weight by 15-20 pounds almost overnight (by this time I was 25, so there’s no coincidence to the weight/metabolism changes; also once I was 25, I stopped being at all tolerant of hangovers). Then I rented Supersize Me. And watched it twice in one day. Then I saw Food, Inc. Then my friend, who had terrible digestive issues, started giving up things like coffee and sugar. Then I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. Now I try to stick to organic milk, am incorporating more organic fruits and veggies, stick to whole grains when possible, try to avoid gluten when possible, and for New Year’s I gave up refined sugars for January and am thinking about making that permanent. But man-oh-man I miss bread. It’s really hard to find good sugar-free bread.

  • Kristen Says:

    I am obsessed with fish oil supplements, more specifically the Omega 3-6-9 by Nordic Naturals. When I started taking them about four years ago, I noticed an IMMEDIATE difference in my memory and mood/energy levels (ie – fewer dips throughout the day). I now will never go without them.

    I recently started taking Vitamin D, because studies have shown that 1) the current recommended daily allowance is probably on the low side, and 2) only a few spots in the country can get Vitamin D from the sun during the winter months (Chicago is not one of them).

    All in all, I take a multi (plant/food based) and an Omega 3-6-9 in the morning, and Vitamin D, B-complex, and sometimes biotin at lunch. I reference Dr. Oz’s supplement chart ages ago and that’s what I decided upon. I can’t take Glucosamine because it is derived from shellfish and I have a slight allergy.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Heather Says:

    Thanks for this series Maggie- I have loved it. You are my internet Oprah.

    I have done many of the items suggested here and one thing we have in common is eating the same thing every day for lunch and dinner. It keeps things simple and allows me to not be as strict about dinner. I also use a juicer to get a lot of my nutrients.

  • Susannah Says:

    The only thing I recommend with fanatic exuberance is taking your multivitamin in liquid form. Particularly good ones out there also have minerals and antioxidants in them. And it goes without saying that these vitamins and minerals all come from foods/plants that have been condensed and liquified. I happen to buy Organic Life brand – so its organic to boot. A bottle costs around $30 and if you take it 2x a day, it lasts about 2 weeks so it’s not cheap, but I can say without reservation that I saw marked improvements in my energy and immune system (no random rashes! hey look my skin cleared up!). I will also tell you it’s mega nasty flavored, so chase it with some kinda strong fruit juice!

  • Anne Says:

    Hi Maggie, boy do I have suggestions for you. A few years ago my husband was having major digestive issues and finally went to a naturalpathic doctor who also specialized in nutrition. She recommended a book titled “The Body Ecology Diet” we found out my husband had an extreme candidia problem from years and years of antibiotics and poor eating habits and basically needed to overhaul his digestive system and reintroduce digestive enzymes and basically give the rest of his body some rest. Over a 6 month period we were forced to watch what we ate due to immediate response to sugar, vinegar, proteins and carbs. It took over our lives, but slowly we moved into more manageable eating habits and took away some very basic, but life altering realizations about food. One, is to watch combinations of food. The Japanese are incredible at this. Balancing the flavors of a meal to provide the salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy will ultimately leave you not wanting to satiate – think spicy, salty pizza and balanced with a sweet and tart soda. The concept means providing a balanced meal that gives your tastebuds all so you don’t physically crave sweet after sour or salty after bitter, it’s all balanced in a healthy way in the overall meal. Another concept we took away also deals with food combinations. BED (Body Ecology Diet) meals are always 80% vegetables and 20% Protein or grains. So that meant most of our meals had two vegetable dishes AND a salad and a small piece of protein or grain. So if there are two bites worth of chicken left you would have to eat vegetables 4x as much as the chicken if you want to have that piece of chicken. As you can imagine it fills you up quickly. Corn, potatoes, grains, and protein are never eaten in combo. Think a steak, mashed potatoes and corn bread. Filling, but a horrible combination for your body to digest. It taxes your organs to digests those things at one time and you’re usually hungry before that meal was completely digested. And removing sugar from your diet is hard, but a huge difference when you bite into a tomato and realize how incredibly sweet it is. The other piece of nutritional knowledge we have gained is a Japanese inspired macrobiotic diet. I’d suggest Mayumi Nishimura’s Macrocooking for body & soul. Yes, some cultures like the one I grew up in did not ever eat processed food. Every meal started with a raw ingredients. Mayumi’s book is simple, the cooking techniques are basic and the food is incredibly filling and balancing to the palate so you never crave something to balance your palate after eating, you are completely satiated after each meal. Try a snack of sliced fuji apple and toasted pumpkins seeds. The apple is sweet and filling, the pumpkin seeds when toasted are spicy and savory. Leaving you not wanting something else after and your body recognizes it as real food (it’s one step away from it’s original appearance) and quickly triggers your brain and body that you have eaten. She has tips on eating mostly grains in the afternoon and light proteins in the evening. All her meals are umami balanced and eating whole foods is filling. Another piece of advice – turn off the tv. Half the commercials are about food and bad ones. Notice how there are no commercials from the American Carrot Association or the United Mushroom foundation.

  • Laura Says:

    I read Eating Animals right before heading home for Christmas. Needless to say, it caused a few hiccups with my carnivorous family. Yeah it’s gruesome, but you come away with a new perspective on factory farming (90-something percent of all farming is factory farming). And if you’re going to take the time and cut out your intake of high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, shouldn’t that extend to cutting out meat from animals that are fed the same shit? It’s a good book and god knows I love a good steak, but meat in America has become such a staple of every meal that we don’t even appreciate it anymore. That’s the main thing I took away from that book; Meat is a luxury and treating it as such makes you appreciate it more, eat it less often, and become a better cook in my opinion.

    Oh that and I’ll never touch a fucking chicken again! Happy reading! :)

  • Michelle Says:

    Your blog has been one of my favorites for so many years and I have never commented before today. This series has been extremely informative and it came at a time when I needed it most. I feel like I needed a wake up call about my health and the way I take care of my body and this was it. Thank you so much. Seriously.

  • Karen Says:

    I had to make a big change in how I ate about two years ago. I had zero energy, I was screaming at the kids all the time, and my digestive system had gone haywire. After reading some food blogs, I stumbled upon the words “celiac disease”. All the associated diseases–colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis–occur in my family by spades. As a trial run, I went off gluten. Suddenly I was waking up at a reasonable hour (“reasonable” being “before my husband has to leave for work”), instead of lying in bed until 9 am and feeling tired afer dinner. My moods smoothed out. I was suddenly going to the bathroom like a normal person—and yes, I actually asked my husband, “Is this how normal people poop? Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

    I still eat fewer veggies and fruits than I should. I blame this on the fact that I am also allergic to green beans, apples, and bananas–three of the easiest to find and cheapest veggies and fruits. But I’m working on it.

  • Franca Bollo Says:

    I definitely second the suggestion to take a vitamin D supplement. Here in SF some days we don’t have 15 minutes of sunshine.

    I haven’t read “Eating Animals” because it would be too, too painful. Plus, it’d be preaching to the choir. I gave up eating meat and fowl 22 years ago. I decided I didn’t want to be complicit in any form of suffering of which I was aware. I haven’t been able to give up fish (so I haven’t fully achieved my goal) and sometimes will eat black licorice or jelly beans (gelatin … made from animal connective tissue).

    I reduced my intake my intake of wheat in December and immediately lost about 5 pounds. In the past 6 weeks I’ve lost 10. I also feel a bit more energetic and clear headed.

    I do take supplements. I credit adding Omega 3 fish oil to my diet with finally being able to tolerate contacts. I’ve been trying for 33 years … every type from the hard to the filmy. The problem was dry eyes (and, no, drops did not work) and the oil, as well as improvements in lenses, have alleviated the problem. My optometrist said he had heard that it could make a difference.

    And, whenever the pants are feeling a little tight, I quit drinking until they fit properly again. It’s relatively easy and I see results pretty quickly.

    Thanks, again, for this series. A good example of the positive side of the Internet.

  • Franca Bollo Says:

    And, as to how I came to my knowledge regarding food? Both my parents are children of immigrants (Sicilian and Azorean) so I grew up eating a Mediterranean diet. My father had a huge vegetable garden and fruit trees. At dinner there was ALWAYS a salad. Always. Our wine was homemade and we were allowed to drink it as children. In fact, my dad would make us wine spritzers in those hot, hot Sacramento Valley summer. We may have issues but alcoholism is not one of them, thank Buddha!

  • Courtney Says:

    My acupuncturist said I need to “build blood,” too! He suggested spinach, which I like but dude, I can only eat but so much. I might have to look into the algae.

    To answer your questions:

    - My family always ate pretty healthy (my mom did Weight Watchers a few times). But I didn’t really know much beyond “calories bad, fat bad.” Seriously, I thought as long as something was low-fat (even if it was loaded with carbs) that it was OK because it wouldn’t make me fat. What? Anyway, after my metabolism tanked (around the same time yours did) I was up to a really gross weight for me and decided my fiancee – now husband – needed to go on a diet. We used sparkpeople.com, which was great because it explained *how* we needed to be eating: more protein, lots of fruits, veggies, and water, whole grains, healthy fats. No more empty carbs (bye, Skittles!). It also gave me a meal plan if I wanted it, and a way to track calories, which was key. I dropped about 20 pounds and I’ve kept it off.

    - Yes, see above. I don’t know how much more I’d be willing to go. I know I should be better about taking vitamins, though.

    - I took fish oil for a long time and it did make me feel a little better, more energetic. It was great during pregnancy. But I somehow got away from it (and from regular vitamins) – I think I got out of the routine when I stopped taking prenatals after I weaned. The last time I tried to take a vitamin, a few months ago, I promptly puked, and haven’t tried one since.

  • Yolanda Says:

    Really and truly have loved this series. I recommend Micahel Pollan’s Food Rules (http://michaelpollan.com/books/food-rules/). I found it to be a breezy read with simple, straight-forward information about what foods you should avoid and what foods you need to be stuffing yourself with, and why. If you’re looking for recipes, I like Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook (http://content.markbittman.com/node/174). His dishes are simple, flavorful, with a de-emphasis on meat.

    We are around the same age and share similar health issues (teeth, joints), but I was not graced with a rocking metabolism and weight has been nearly a lifelong struggle. But this past year as I caught four colds, and battle recurring bouts of vertigo, I realized that my body was no longer asking, it was begging for me to change.

    I’ve started moving my body, more days than not, for at least 45 minutes. I bore easily, so exercise DVD’s only hold my interest for a few weeks. I prefer going to classes, even though I feel more exposed than in my living room. When others are around I am less likely to back off on an exercise or quit. And though it has only been two weeks, I have (shockingly) found myself looking forward to my chance to see what else my body is capable of each day.

    Because that is how I see it. Giving birth showed me a strength I always wanted to believe I had, but didn’t actually *know* I had. My recovery from that experience has taught me plenty, and I am drawing on it as I struggle through simple yoga poses and talk myself into running for a full minute on the treadmill. I have 90 pounds to lose to reach a sustainable, healthy weight. But, more than that, I am looking to make taking care of myself and my health fall out of the optional category and smack dab into the essential.

  • Courtney Says:

    Oh, and Spark also taught me *portion control*. It’s so important! That, and a food scale, helped a lot.

  • Helen Says:

    - How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?
    My parents have always taken a holistic approach when it comes to my health and food. This means I was forced to eat a lot of things I didn’t like when I was a kid, but also left me with a lot of memories of mini speeches about apples and iron and garlic and it’s antiseptic properties and how a varied diet is good for you etc etc

    More recently however I have taken a greater interest in diet and exercise when I realized that going up a flight of stairs made me tired. I started reading about how different foods contribute to your overall health and I found the main problem to be lack of inspiration on how to cook with foods I didn’t know about. I picked up a copy of Clean Eating off the counter at a superstore once and have been getting it ever since. I like it because it has great suggestions on different meals/why they’re good, how to change unhealthy meals into healthier ones, and also keeps price in mind.

    - Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?
    I have made several non-temporary changes, partly due to taste, partly due to health. I have started buying grass fed , free range, no antibiotic or hormone meat. And if you’re not convinced when it comes to health reasons then I’m sure the taste will win you over. I have also started cooking with wayyy less starch/carbs and more vegetables as I feel it provides me with longer lasting energy.

    - Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?
    I used to take Iron supplements, but generally I aim to have a varied and healthy diet, and only take them when I’m stressed/busy/don’t feel like I’m eating healthy enough.

    Great post!

  • Marissa Says:

    The algae is bullshit. Just google Klamath Blue Green Algae.
    I the case of the Klamath algae it was harvested from farm ponds basically. So among a slew of other contaminates it had copious amounts of cow shit in it.
    Algae is also a sign of an unhealthy waterway.

  • Marissa Says:

    Also, (rantrantrant) we have several lakes around here that are shut down nearly every year because of toxic algae blooms. If I shouldn’t even swim in it or let my dog drink it then why in Gods name would I swallow large amounts of it.
    I say stay away from “herbal supplements/remedies” especially considering the fact that the industry in totally unregulated.

    About the Blue-green Algae Blooms

    When conditions are optimal, including light and temperature, levels of nutrients (i.e., phosphorous and nitrogen, and the ratio of the two), and lack of water turbulence, blue-green algae can quickly multiply into a bloom.
    Blue-green algae blooms are likely to occur more often in warmer months
    When some blooms occur in water bodies, exposure to the blue-green algae and their toxins can pose risks to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife. Exposure may occur by ingestion, dermal contact, and aspiration or inhalation
    Risks to people may occur when recreating in water in which a blue-green algae bloom is present, or from the use of drinking water that uses a surface water source in which a blue-green algae bloom is present
    Exposure to blue-green algae can cause rashes, skin and eye irritation, allergic reactions, gastrointestinal upset, and other effects. At high levels, exposure can result in serious illness or death Depending on the particular cyanobacterium, and the amount to which one is exposed, blue-green algae have the potential to cause a variety of adverse health effects, including liver toxicity (e.g., Microcystis aeruginosa) and neurotoxicity (e.g., Anabaena circinalis). Microcystin toxins may also promote tumor growth Destruction of Cyanobacteria cells may release the toxins into surrounding waters, so care must be taken in dealing with blue-green algae blooms
    These threats are not just theoretical. Several dog deaths have been reported following the dogs’ exposure to blue-green algae in water bodies.
    Worldwide animal poisonings and adverse human health effects have been reported.

  • Amy Says:

    (I ate three peanut butter cookies while reading this…)

    I’ve been wanting to do a dietary cleanse for a while now. But I keep making excuses: I don’t know how to do it or which product to buy, I don’t want to potentially be feeling off when I have too much to do, I don’t want to stop eating cookies, etc. But I think I NEED to do it, if only so that I can have a clue what it feels like to be functioning on the most beneficial nutritional input I can manage for a while.

    When my daughter weaned my hormones had a hell of a time getting back to normal so I started taking a bunch of vitamins, which did the trick. Now I just take one women’s multivitamin, but I think I should look into other things to help with my terrible skin on my back or the inflammation that causes my heel and shoulder pain.

  • Missives From Suburbia Says:

    So at some point I’m supposed to stop putting cream on my cereal? (It’s my one indulgence, I swear. *sigh*)

    I was having some severe memory problems at one point, so I went to my neurologist (I have a neurologist, doesn’t everyone?), and we ran a series of blood panels over a six-week period. Turns out I was severely deficient in vitamin B. The memory problems faded, and so did my migraines, which I’d been plagued with my entire adult life (I’m 41–I can say “entire”). I’ve had about five headaches in the last year, and zero migraines. It’s one of the first things I suggest to anyone when they complain of migraines.

    Great series! You’re reminding me why I take all the pills I take and why I need to go back to acupuncture.

  • Katie Says:

    May I just add that accurate information on a healthy, nutritious lifestlye can always be found be consulting a Registered Dietitian. Registered Dietitians are the food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. You can find an RD near you at http://www.eatright.org.

  • Shevon Says:

    I’m pregnant right now, and I develop gestational diabetes everytime I get pregnant. So I am forced to adopt a sugar-free whole grain diet. I also take prenatal vitamins, and have to limit my caffeine intake. I ALWAYS lose weight when I’m pregnant, and am in general much more healthy. I wonder why I am willing to change the way I treat my body only when I am playing host to someone else? Your story has given me a lot to think about Maggie, and I am inspired to make better choices even after my little one is born.

  • ZombieGirl Says:

    I don’t have anything to add to the discussion in terms of information, but I wanted to say thank you, Maggie, for writing about your health, how bad it got, and what’s helped you improve it.

    I promised myself years ago that I’d be the healthiest I’d ever been by the age of 30. I turned 29 in September, and I’ve had NO idea where to start, and the judgement and scolding one receives for not already knowing and doing it all perfectly has been off-putting.

    In your story I’ve found some suggestions that I think may help me make a substantial change for the better. More importantly, it’s an unbelievable relief to read that someone else has found this business of taking care of one’s body as confusing, arduous, and occasionally absurd as I do–and has found things to do that have really, genuinely helped. THANK YOU for sharing all of this.

  • Nancy R Says:

    I took a nutrition class in college, but I don’t think I really started to ‘get it’ until looking into healthy food and snacks after my kids were born…suddenly I began remembering things like… oh yeah, eating citrus with iron-rich foods helps your body uptake that iron. Tomato + Burger = better iron 4U!

    The most eye-opening read as far as the food industry is concerned has been The Unhealthy Truth by Robin O’Bryan http://www.robinobryan.com after my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. I’ve since been gradually changing our diet for the better…sadly, it’s not been reflected in my weight!

  • sidehatch Says:

    just my 2 cents, my knee surgeon told me that Glucosamine is bullshit. (My words, not his.)

    good luck with your worthwhile endeavor. I wish you and all your readers good health!

  • Glynnis Says:

    I can’t remember all the places I’ve read and researched, but 2 books that have helped me have been Jillian Michael’s Master Your Metabolism and Foods that Harm, Foods That Heal. I did a serious overhaul of my diet almost 2 years ago when my doctor announced I had high cholesterol. About 7 months ago my knees blew out and I couldn’t exercise anymore so I’ve gained back, but your diet changes sound similar to mine.
    Good luck.

  • mar Says:

    To Courtney, comment #84 above -

    Try either kids chewables – much easier on the stomach – or there are some adult chewables out there. Or, the route I go is the powdered vitamins, like Emergen-C – they make a multivitamin as well, also ones w/glucosomine, etc. Mix with water, so much easier on the stomach. My stomach got destroyed while I was pregnant (both times I lost tons of weight because I threw up endlessly!), and this is the only way I can take vitamins now!

  • Joanna Says:

    I too had to learn to eat as an adult. I was an athlete in college and I really could eat a waffle sundae, sugar cereal, bagel, and an omlette every morning. After college at my first office job, I realized the daily twix + chips at 3 pm were not only beyond the budget of an editorial assistant but also beyond the stretch of the pants that I sat on all day. I tried Weight Watchers online to little effect. It seemed the more space in my head I devoted to food, the more difficult it was for me to make consistently good choices. The only diet that ever worked for me was moving across the country by myself. I was too terrified to eat much and lost twenty pounds in a few weeks. To coax my appetite back and calm my nerves, I started running again. Around the same time, because I felt like I had a fresh start, I stopped eating most meat (except fish and eggs). Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan) supported this choice for me. Four years later I’ve gained back five healthy pounds and I’ve never felt better (turning 30 next week)! So I really learned how to feed myself when I was living alone in a strange place. I needed some routine and structure so I started eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch everyday (grains with fruit, plain Greek yogurt with fruit, light salad, and fruit). I still do this and not only do I not get bored, I look forward to it every day! It’s a comfort to me. For the first few months I was my own dining companion and without anyone else to cater to, I discovered I don’t need very much protein or many carbs and a satisfying dinner for me meant something like a plate of kale with an egg and sriracha sauce. I also started ritualizing meals a bit more as a way to treat myself better. If I want a snack, I’ll put some tea on first and put it on a plate – the same way I would offer it to a friend. I am very proud of myself for learning how to enjoy food more and building a more positive daily life from my food habits while at the same time devoting less energy to it in my head. If I do that thing where I try to project my regrets on my death bed, I really don’t want to list among them hours spent fretting about food while living a privileged life of abundant, easy access to it. I often hear about the importance of listening to your body and while I find that it’s true that my body’s wants are often in line with its needs (like when I get cravings for green vegetables when my iron is low), I also remind myself about a study (mentioned here: http://runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=21020) about how your body lies to your brain. Fascinating and kind of hilarious. It’s about how in an endurance test, participants who drank gatorade performed the same as those who only swished it in their mouth without swallowing. I think this is line with Maggie’s trick to eat some nuts 20 minutes before a meal. Your body will try to trick you so you have to learn how to trick your body. I try to remember that it sends me both good messages that I’ve learned how to hear and trust and bad messages that I should wag my finger at but occasionally indulge.

  • jrm Says:

    You can’t build cartiledge with a supplement. I have degenerative cartiledge in my knees and trust me, if it was possible, I would be eating a bottle od glucosamine a day.

    Stopped reading the resy of this post at that point. Please talk to an orthopaedic surgeon about how cartilege works.

  • KBL Says:

    The book that first changed my eating habits was Fast Food Nation. It wasn’t just what I was doing to myself, but what my choices meant for the greater community of man and animals. Food, Inc. also has had a profound impact on what I eat and what I purchase.

    Thanks for this series!
    Kim

  • Min Says:

    I was diagnosed with PCOS last year. I gained 30 pounds the year before and I had never had a weight problem.

    I am trying to get pregnant (please think fertile thoughts for me!) and the PCOS made it so that I was on diabetes drugs to help my insulin levels.

    The things I had read:
    Living with PCOS
    Glycemic Index for Dummies

    But really, what I had to do was give up all white carbs. This included sugar, white flour, potatoes and rice.

    Over Christmas, I did cheat and eat one sugar cookie. It was so sweet that it gave me a headache.

    The big thing my family did was start a HUGE garden this year. And meeting other gardeners. I got farm fresh eggs and honey that was from bees who pollinated my garden. This helped me lose those 30 pounds and teach my almost four year old where her food comes from. She ate fresh sugar snap peas all summer and will not eat the ones from the grocery store now.

    We are currently growing kale, cabbages, brussels and arugula.

    I can eat whole grains and I also eat tofu noodles. I pretty much had to make my own bread but that is SO MUCH better than what I was eating before. I know for me to keep the weight off I HAVE to eat this way.

  • Traci Baldwin Says:

    Hi – I’ve been working on consistently taking Juice Plus, they are dehydrated fruits, veggies & berries. My skin was horrible, and when take the 2/day (added into my smoothie in the a.m.), things looked good. But I’m bad with consistency. So that’s my 2011 resolve, to be more consistent with them. You should check them out, they are all-natural. I do not sell them, just a user.

  • Alissa Says:

    I’ve been gluten free for almost 8 years due to celiac disease. It was hard at first, but I’m better for it in the end. And I don’t just mean that from the autoimmune perspective. I’m much more adventurous with food now, and I’m more willing to try new things. My general rule is that if it’s gluten free, I have to at least try it.

    I also take supplements, but mine are very targeted. I take D because my D levels always seem to be low. It helps. I also take rhodiola to help even out my depression. I’ve also been taking fish oil and evening primrose oil, but I’m not convinced yet that they do anything.

  • katie Says:

    I suffered with chronic sinus issues, aches and pains, poor sleep, inability to focus — a whole spectrum of vague malaise. A girlfriend recommended “Eat Right For Your Type,” about eating according to blood type, and I thought it sounded like a steaming load of hooey.

    I decided it wouldn’t hurt me to give it a try for two weeks, and within about three days I was sleeping more soundly, waking more easily, and able to actually breathe through my nose. It was huge! I lost ten pounds in a week.

    Since then I’ve given up gluten entirely, and not only have I simply been feeling much better, but all my other allergies are far less sensitive.

    It’s been ten years, and along with ditching gluten I’ve significantly reduced dairy and other carbs, and I try to remember to eat red and green veg rather than yellow and white. I’m still sleeping better and my focus is still much, much improved. I’m sick far less often.

    I know no system will work for everyone, but I’m totally converted.

    On top of going gluten-free I’ve picked up a handful of vitamins in the morning: iron, vitamin C to help with iron absorption, calcium, and a womens multivitamin. I also take a baby aspirin and folic acid since Factor V (a clotting disorder) runs in my family, and since I’m on the pill.

    I love the idea of vitamins being condensed food, and will definitely be looking into some of the supplements discussed above.

    Thanks so much for being so frank with us, and opening up this discussion!

  • Parker Says:

    I love your health series. I started a vegetarian diet a few years ago but didn’t get really serious about food until the last 6 months. I discovered that my body doesn’t recognize soy as food and that led me down the path of ‘oh, so a lot of these problems i’ve been having are related to food’.

    What I’d like to know, as an uninsured person, is: how do you find a good acupuncturist? I live in the Bay Area where it seems like there’s an acupuncture office on every street.

    My main body challenge is clearing up my skin. Cutting out soy really helped but I seem to have other allergies/intolerances too (many mysteries yet to solve). I keep a food journal and have my favorite kale as a near-daily lunch but need some help with dinner ideas and need help figuring out what else my body needs.

  • erin*sparkle&hay Says:

    this is on my list as well & i’m working on it right now – thank you so much for sharing!

  • kimberly/tippytoes Says:

    Oh no, is this series over? I have loved it! The vitamins and supplements especially because this is something I really need to work on. Consistency is my problem. Thanks for providing all the links!

  • Kris Cameron Says:

    Great series, Maggie!

    I too have a super awesome autoimmune disorder. Ahh vitiligo I love your uncontrollable disfigurement! My mother has rheumatoid arthritis, and if one of your parents has an autoimmune disorder that increases your chances of getting an autoimmune disorder by 20%! I had two white spots on my stomach for at least 15 years and didn’t think anything about them.

    About ten years ago I had some shoddy dental work that has resulted in me having two bionic teeth. Right about the time I had wickedly infected teeth pulled from my mouth, and then two screws put in my jaw I noticed white spots developing around my eyes, mouth and on my hands. I was then diagnosed by a dermatologist with vitiligo. He seemed really bummed out that my incurable illness was taking away from his busy day of botox shots and recommended I wear more makeup.

    I’ve always worked out and eaten clean because I am vain and I’ve had a four pack for years (not six, because mama needs her wine). Once I got diagnosed with vitiligo I started doing bikram yoga. Then I did a 60 day bikram challenge. Then after that was done I continued doing bikram yoga twice a week and only working out at the gym three days a week. I haven’t lost any more pigment since starting the 60 day challenge.

    I take a ton of supplements that have shown to help with vitiligo. I take gingko biloba (40 mg thrice daily), b12 (tons), vitamin d (tons), folic acid. I have an entire row of supplements and I’ll add more in randomly.

    I just tore my rotator cuff so I’ve started taking in medicinal chocolate chips and tequila as well. I was going to tell you that I tried Tracy Anderson and thought it was crap but you still have a functioning rotator cuff so maybe that program is better than years of lifting heavy weights over your head?

    Once right after I was diagnosed with vitiligo I had a dream in which my friend asked me how the disease was going and I said “well it sucks, but now I can see the future ten seconds before it happens so it seems worth it” and he told me “yeah my other friend got crohn’s so now she has xray vision”. My subconscious thinks that I should have a super power with my autoimmune disorder. Would you like super strength or invisibility?

  • Rhonda Says:

    Hi Maggie, I appreciate this series and your struggles with exercise, nutrition and supplements. Over the years, I’ve taken each of these things for granted until they came back to bite me one by one.

    I especially share your hesitancy toward exercise (it feels unnatural), and supplements (or anything else that feels like a consumer driven gimmick). I’m refreshed to hear that supplements actually do work for you and that it’s not just a bunch of white elephant magic. :)

    Last, I have no real books to offer up for this series, but I am taking away so many great suggestions and resources from you and your readers so THANK YOU. You’re already helping to save my health.

  • Alli Says:

    Hi Maggie,

    I’ve read a lot about how to eat, as you know–magazines and books. The whole subject fascinates me. Three of the most influential food books for me have been Fast Food Nation, and the two mentioned in Comment #2 above. For Christmas, my mom stuck Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” in our stockings. It’s a quick read and a great pocket reference. If you don’t already have a copy, you might want to pick one up.

  • tamara Says:

    maggie – kris carr has a new book out, ‘crazy sexy diet’. she’ll be in sf the first week of february for a book signing (http://crazysexylife.com/2011/love-list-crazy-sexy-diet-book-tour/). buy the book this week to help her get on best seller lists…and in it? a wealth of information akin to what you describe in your post, and your series, and what you had initially read on her website previously.

    and bravo to you for what you’ve accomplished in taking charge of your health! learning about what can make you feel great is exhilirating; turning that knowledge into action is empowering!

    from – a fellow sf-ian, kris carr fan, current 21-day cleanse participant, and long-time lurker ;)

  • beany Says:

    Long time reader and never commented before. I was surprised to read this series, yet in a way not…I think.

    - How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?
    After moving to the U.S. 12 years ago I thought everything here tasted “funny” than back home. I didn’t know why. I don’t have any scientific basis for this, but I believe it is because of the abundance of non-organic, non-ethically raised food. I do eat meat, sparingly mostly to enhance the meal and the one I buy from the farmers market tastes like it did back in the motherland. Michael Pollan was the first to shed light into my food world. From there I’ve gone in all sorts of directions. If not already recommended, I’d also check into Renee Loux’s recipes.

    - Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?
    Yes. I have quit the baddies multiple times (coffee, alcohol) usually when I have more control over my time. My intention is to reduce my workweek so I can do more of this and focus on myself more.

    - Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?
    They don’t freak me out, but I do prefer to take it in its natural form. I prefer the kale over the tablet. I suspect my aversion to popping tablets stems from my childhood where I did have to pop multiple tables daily. I understand why people pop them though. I may to, as the years pass me by.

    Glad you feel better.

  • Rachel Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading this series. While not a diet/health book per se, Hal Herzog’s book, “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals” gave me some clarity about eating meat while I buy my pet rabbits organic vegetables.

    He makes the point that most of us have double standards when it comes to meat/companions animals (I’m not alone!) and discusses some of the best/worst practices, ranging from cock fighting to wolf-dog hybrids.

    Marion Nestle’s book, What to Eat, had the biggest impact on my diet. It is massive, but also really practical, as she goes through the grocery aisle step-by-step. After reading this book, I gave up veal, sweetened yogurt, most “drinkable calories” and farm raised salmon.

  • Shinwha. Says:

    Thank you, Maggie, I learned so much from reading this.

    I think a lot of what I’ve learned about nutrition and food has been a byproduct of my love for cooking. Watching my mom cooking as I was growing up, reading cookbooks, and doing my own cooking have helped me to learn about ingredients and quality of food, so that I’m much more aware of what is in my food – even when I’m eating something I didn’t make myself.

    I’ve also learned a lot from just this one podcast that I’ve been listening to for the last couple of years. It’s by Monica Reinagel aka the Nutrition Diva (she’s an opera singer and nutritionist). The podcasts are usually about 7-8 minutes long. I subscribe to them on iTunes.
    http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/

    Another podcast I love is KCRW’s Good Food, which is more about politics and culture related to food. (e.g. eating placenta, which I know you’ve covered too!) It’s excellent.
    http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/gf

  • Kelly Says:

    If you want something that will rock your world, you should check out Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions. It runs totally against modern diet and medical thought, but it has been life changing for myself and my family. You will either be enlightened, or think she is crazy, but it is a holistic approach to health taking into account digestion and the importance of working with the whole system.

  • slnoonanj Says:

    I’m going to second reading the China Study – I found the science to be very compelling. Like Pollan, he’s an advocate of whole foods – but would change Pollan’s recommendation to say don’t eat any animal products. He’s also not an advocate for supplements – the science just isn’t there to support them (even calcium – I found his discussion about calcium to be mind blowing). Overall, I’ve come around to agree with both Pollan and Campbell that reductionism (a focus on specific nutrients rather than whole foods) is misguided. We don’t really know much at all about how whole foods and combinations of whole foods influence our health. I could go on and on as this is an obsession of mine, but really – go check out the China Study and the other books recommended here – you’ll learn so much.

  • jessica Says:

    Hi Maggie,

    I spent last year covered (literally, every inch of my body) in giant urticaria, also idiopathic. And it sent me careening down a ‘get my health in order’ path as well. I was so frustrated with mainstream doctors shrugging their shoulders and handing me an Rx for Prednisone (which made me crazy) I ended up doing a lot of digging and going the natural route as well. Though I still haven’t dared try acupuncture, it’s on my list… it’s really not scary?

    - How have you come by the knowledge you have about food? Reading suggestions?

    I think my life changing books were: The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program, and Potatoes not Prozac.

    I ate, for years like you did – my high metabolism meant I didn’t have to worry about a weight problem (and I still look pretty good after having four kids) but I realized I was harming my body by eating little more than marshmallows.

    - Would you consider making a non-temporary change in how you eat? Have you already?

    I eliminated all processed foods, though I too have had a really hard time letting go of regular pasta. I did go gluten free for about a year. I was completely off all sugar for two years, but now eat it in small amounts. I’ve never had alcohol or smoked or anything like that, so those were easy.

    - Do you take supplements or do they freak you out? Do you believe they work?

    I do – after much trial and error, I’ve found I feel best using Standard Process supplements. They are made using whole foods, absolutely no synthetics– even their calcium is a type that is readily absorbed. I like that they aren’t a MLM company, and I can get the products on Amazon or through my chiropractor.

    Thank you for this series, so many think I’m an nut job when I don’t just take a pill to mask the symptoms and continue eating like a normal American.

    xo

  • tiffany zajas Says:

    Thanks so much for writing about your journey to living a healthy life! I just now came across your blog, and I’m loving it. I’ve been feeling convicted of my eating and my exercise habits lately…and it’s something I really want to change. Reading about your journey makes it seem more doable. Thanks for sharing! :) I’m excited to continue reading your blog!

  • kate Says:

    I feel compelled to comment even though I NEVER comment. The book, Nourishing Traditions has changed my life. Eating a traditional diet makes me feel so good!