OJ Bites the Dust

April 4, 2012

I had a drink of my husband’s Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice this morning and it tasted like ass. I used to love that stuff. Another vice loses it’s hold….

If you want to know why I gave up the “zombie juice”, read this.


Also I would like to note that I add these “journey” posts to document the effect of clean eating on a regular person. I know it’s easy to read a blog like this and think, “Oh great, if eating right means giving up everything I love, then forget about it!”

I often felt that way too. So instead of “giving up” foods, I am replacing them with different options. I did not ever officially make a decision to “never” have OJ again. I told myself I could have orange juice whenever I wanted, but it had to be freshly squeezed from real oranges. Now, that process is no fun, so I don’t do it every day. I don’t even do it once a week. Once a month or so I bust out the juicer and make enough for the whole family (and then make orange-craisin muffins from the pulp).

I haven’t even felt too terribly deprived by this. I knew a glass of orange juice was always just a big ol’ mess away. I didn’t not drink it because I wasn’t allowed, but because I didn’t have the inclination right that second to mess with the juicer (juicing by hand kills my wrists). That’s an important distinction for a junk food lover like me.

So when I do let a little of the “bad” stuff slip back in, I am still surprised to find I don’t even like it anymore. And this is why I don’t like skinny people giving me diet advice. It’s easy for them to pass up the OJ (or pop, or store-bought cookies, or deep-fried, then frozen, then reheated nuggets) when they never learned to like that sort of thing in the first place. But it’s overwhelming to change your eating habits when you think you have to give up all the foods you love.

So these are supposed to be posts of hope. Posts that remind me that these choices do get easier. Posts that say, “If I can do it, you can too.”

Don’t think about it as “giving-up” foods. Give them a break while you explore new options. Revisit them 6 months down the road and see how you feel about them. I was not expecting to dislike that juice this morning. I was indulging in a moment. But instead I happily discovered that I am free of one more burden.

(I had a terrible time with grammar in this post… talking about things with all those double negatives and in dangling past participicular tenses (or whatever) is confusing).


I am sure I am not the only overweight woman who traces her food issues to her childhood and thinks, “what if…” and “if only….”

I am always quick to say I don’t blame my parents for my choices in life. At the same time, the habits ingrained in me as a child have made it hard to change my patterns as an adult.

I really believe that people try to do the best they can with the information they have. If the truth is elusive and confusing now, how much worse was it for our mothers? Women who were figuring out how to be working mothers while still living up to impossible standards as caregivers and homemakers?

That doesn’t change the fact that I grew up thinking water could only be consumed with Kool-aid mix and a cup of sugar. That a lunch consisting of deli meat on white bread, a Little Debbie snack cake, and a juice box was healthy because I threw in an apple. And if you ask 20 random people today if Honey Nut Cheerios is a healthy breakfast, I bet at least 19 of them would say “Yes”, so how was my mom to know any better back in 1985?

But darn it all… I was a skinny kid so I must’ve been healthy, right? I played a lot of sports, rode my bike to school, and was outside every evening until it was too dark to see. Maybe that kept the weight at bay, but I don’t think a return to that lifestyle is the answer for today’s children. For one… it’s just not going to happen in a world where recess is being cut, parents don’t feel safe letting their kids roam the neighborhood, and free time takes the form of “play-dates” in order to fit it into the family’s calendar.

For another, you’ll still wind up with me. The minute I entered the adult world, that level of activity was not sustainable. Things changed drastically in college. I got out of class, went to work, came home and studied. All I wanted to do during my free time was sit at Denny’s with my friends. Not much changed when I entered the workforce. And the weight crept on. 

Look around… I am certainly not alone in this. We have got to learn to eat right. For ourselves and so we can teach our kids. Skinny kids are NOT healthy because they are thin. They are walking time bombs. Just like me.

I said something in my post yesterday that I want to elaborate on:

Many children’s “main sources of food” are “school lunches and convenience foods (Kraft dinners, Tyson nuggets, Betty Crocker pot-pies, Lean Cuisines etc.). The problem with those foods is not so much that you can’t make a meal plan of them that fit the dietary guidelines because you most definitely could.”

I used to count calories when I needed to lose weight. Admittedly it is a very useful strategy to expose and examine your current lifestyle. For awhile I chose to believe the “calorie is a calorie” hype and ate whatever I wanted while “dieting” and just stopped eating when I hit my meal totals. I clearly remember days where I would eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, grab a Twix bar and a pop for lunch, and a Happy Meal for dinner and be well within my calorie limits. Obviously this is a ridiculous way to eat, but I was a “normal” weight in college and arrogantly thought that meant I was healthy. I did not even suspect that I was sabotaging my body.

But let’s paint this picture with shades of gray and see how it gets more complicated. Here is an example of a nutritionist approved meal plan from my gestational diabetes days:

Nutritionist Approved Meal Plan:
1 cup Cheerios cereal — 110 calories
3/4 cup skim milk  — 85
1 cup Tropicana OJ — 110

Yoplait Light Yogurt — 100

Turkey sandwich on white bread — 320
1oz pretzels — 110
1 mozzarella cheese stick — 100
Lite applesauce — 50
Pepsi — 150

Lean Cuisine Sweet and Sour Chicken — 300
12 oz Crystal Light — 10

1 cup Edy’s Slow Churned Rich & Creamy Light Chocolate Chip Ice Cream — 240

Total: 1,685 calories

That looks perfectly acceptable on paper, doesn’t it? At my current weight and activity level, my body will burn 2,300 calories a day. So 1,600-1,700 is a great caloric intake for weight loss. The above looks like the perfect plan. All those items can be purchased at any grocery store and whipped together quickly and cheaply. And since meal plans like this are all over the Internet for free, I don’t even have to think ahead or plan! So here you go everyone…. go forth and be fat no more!

But wait… why isn’t this happening?!  No one is pulling this off!  I like all of the above foods. This really sounds like a diet I could stick to. It has ice cream and pop in it for crying out loud!!

To be honest I have pulled this diet off in my day. When I was 21 and needed to lose weight to get into the Air Force, I ate like that for four months and lost 20 pounds. I lost weight this way again when I was put on the military’s “Fitness Improvement Program.” I even managed to lose a few pounds eating like this once I was diagnosed with the gestational diabetes (no small feat when you are pregnant).

But are you noticing a pattern here? Is there something wrong with this picture? Whilst I lost all this weight by counting calories, I also put the weight back on every time. Undoubtedly the calorie counting works to lose. But I never kept the weight off or was able to stick to this sort of plan to maintain. It was never an enjoyable lifestyle. And each time I tried it, I fell off the wagon sooner. My body wasn’t going to live that way and my brain could not overcome what my body wanted.

So for contrast’s sake, here is the clean eating menu I (mostly) stick to now:

Daily Clean Eating Meal Plan
Quaker Old-Fashioned Oats w/ Craisins and whole milk — 225
Coffee w/ stevia and heavy cream — 50
1 medium banana — 100

1 cup homemade vanilla yogurt from whole milk — 135

Chicken sandwich (leftovers on homemade bread) — 500
Apple slices — 60
Carrot sticks — 10
Iced tea w/ lemon and stevia — 0

Large slice homemade meatloaf — 300
Potato wedges — 100
Green Beans — 25
Side Salad (bacon bits, no dressing) — 50
Water — 0

2 cups popcorn, oil-popped 110

Total: 1,665

Most of my dinners clock in around 450 calories, lunch is around 600 and breakfast is generally 350 with two light snacks. But I am never hungry. On weekends we make homemade brownies and on Fridays we order pizza. But I am slowly losing weight. If I can eat well, not be hungry, splurge every weekend, and lose weight… what more can I want in life? And I am not dieting. I am eating real food with realistic portion sizes.

So why is it that I can’t maintain the first plan? Well for starters… I don’t eat those portion sizes. 1 cup of cereal? Maybe I pour exactly one cup the first few days of a new diet, but I am never satisfied, and that never lasts. And am I going to teach my kids to weigh and measure every bowl of cereal as well? Is that the lifestyle I want for them? Counting every mouthful? Is that realistic or the recipe for an eating disorder. Or rebellion and an obesity epidemic?

The point is, the first menu gets a USDA stamp of approval. You could find something like it on most of the big food manufacturer’s websites because they are happy to promote the myth that losing weight is simply a matter of cutting calories with the occasional splurge. All of them reformulate and repackage their products to line up with the newest government health claims (“Low Fat”, “Whole Grain”, “No HFCS”).

But the first menu does not lead to a healthy lifestyle. Improvements are temorary. It doesn’t last! You don’t feel good eating this way. You don’t feel full and you never feel satisfied. You roam around your kitchen opening and closing cabinets and poking your head into the fridge. These processed, refined foods turn immediately into sugars that go right through your system and send you scrambling for more.

I don’t like to talk about weight loss on this blog, because I don’t think we should wait until we are obese before re-evaluating our food priorities. Especially where the kids are concerned. I wasn’t raised to eat right but I was thin. I didn’t even know I was “broke” until the weight packed on in college and I didn’t know how to stop it. My parents were great in every other way, but they didn’t have this information. We do. Let’s change.

Can I Get a Coke With That?

February 29, 2012

Yeah, that’s about how I felt…

Okay, I don’t know why I did it, but I had a Coke with lunch today. And sure enough, now I can’t stop eating. Why is that a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with water keeps me satisfied all afternoon, but a cheese sandwich on homemade bread with Coke leaves me a ravenous beast until dinner?!

Seriously, since lunch I have eaten, another sandwich (but on one of those yummy Turano French rolls), a cinnamon bagel, a box of raisins, and a glass of milk. STOP the insanity!! I am going to go have a glass of water and some carrot sticks.

(Update: I found some leftover minestrone in the fridge and finally got a grip.)

Progress Can Be Demoralizing

February 20, 2012

Do you ever find yourself moving slowly but surely towards a goal then all of sudden you get demoralized? I was feeling that way last week.

I have been reading on Food Renegade about how grains should be prepared in order for our bodies to make the most of them. I was just getting used to baking my own bread from whole wheat flour, and eating oatmeal for breakfast everyday. Now it turns out I should be soaking that oatmeal in yogurt overnight, and only using freshly milled sprouted grains in my bread.

I might could deal with the yogurt idea. We all love yogurt around here and the thin consistency of homemade yogurt  would lend itself nicely to our morning oatmeal. But you can’t just buy sprouted flour at Meijer. Or even Trader Joe’s. You have to frickin’ order it off the Internet and it is expensive!

This stuff can be overwhelming if you discover all these new ideas and try to implement them all at once. When I read that “sprouted, soaked, or fermented” thing I dutifully soaked some steel cut oats that very night. It wasn’t that hard and it was pretty tasty the next day. I sat there staring at my tangy bowl of oat-gurt trying to convince myself that this change was no big deal. But really I just felt defeated. My thoughts quickly changed from “I can do this” to “I am baking my own frickin’ bread and I am still doing it wrong?!”

I didn’t bake any bread for a week after that and that’s when I knew it wasn’t time to make this change. I get the grain thing and the stuff about the phytic acid… I really do. I just don’t think I can go that route right now. If a change is too overwhelming it ends up being demoralizing. I would rather go slow, then go backward. 

So let’s just forget about the sprouting and the yogurt and save the fermenting for beer. I am much more excited about trying raw milk…. One thing at a time.

Okay so I started this blog to record this journey, but so far I have mainly been preaching. I just have been shocked by so many of things that I never knew. And it’s February, so it’s not like I’m growing or preserving anything at the moment.

But I really want to share my progress as well. My victories and setbacks. I want to remember what was hard and what was easy. What worked and what didn’t. I want to be able to look back and see how my attitude, desires, and cravings changed, not just when I learned that junk food is addictive and even cows are being fed candy.

So here’s a new one… I might be over McDonald’s.

We went last night to grab Happy Meals before my son’s recital. Jeff pulled up to the drive-through, ordered for the boys, turned to me with that questioning gaze… and nothing. I didn’t want a single thing. I suppose I could have gone for a salad, but I was actually in the mood for chicken. Just not that chicken.

For the record, my husband and I have always love(d) McDonald’s. I never had a twice a day habit or anything, but we were solid 2-3 times a week customers before we had kids. We ate McDonald’s the first time we made it back to civilization after we met. We ate McDonald’s while touring Germany, France, London, Scotland, and Wales. We included McDonald’s on our first major date after having kids. (Rock n’ Roll McD’s and Wicked baby!) It was our thing. Our place.

My confession was a big blow, but my husband took it well.

Oh and in the interest of full disclosure… I did snag some of his fries.

The Start of a Journey

February 7, 2012

Part of the reason I am writing this blog is to capture the journey. When I read other blogs like Food Renegade or the Nourished Kitchen I feel so inadequate. While I have made the decision to give up processed foods and seek out a local, sustainable food supply, my biggest steps so far have been to toss the Trix and stop buying pop. But those people have arrived. They are living the dream. They are fermenting kombucha, simmering beef bone stock, and stuffing their kids with legumes and brussel sprouts. And while I am envious… I am not always inspired. A lot of that food doesn’t even look very good.

Will I ever prefer this…

So while I am 100% convinced that our food supply is corrupted beyond hope and I no longer want any part of it, that’s about as far as I have gotten. Oh sure, I switched to the CSA. That was actually pretty easy. I made a phone call, gave my credit card number, and now I get my meat from the back of a bus rather than Meijer. Okay, so that’s not typical for your average American. But it’s not that different from going to Butera, picking up 20 lbs of whatever is on sale and then going home and writing up a meal plan based on my finds.

Now that I am getting into the traditional food recommendations of Weston A. Price, however, I am realizing this is going to get hard. And I am a little at a loss. 

…to this?

It was actually pretty easy to open up the pantry and toss all the cereal, crackers, and chips. Pitch the flour, pasta, rice, and sugar and what does that leave you when hear this: “Mom, I’m hungry!” It’s 3pm and even though they ate sliced chicken, cheese, and apples for lunch and followed it up with a fruit smoothie, they still want more.

Yesterday afternoon I gave each of my kids two cups of homemade yogurt (that takes a full 17 hours to “brew” mind you), a pile of carrots and a mound of grapes and they still weren’t satisifed. So I filled them up with good ol’ fashioned Quaker Oats. I am super mom, right? No. I found out last week that you should only eat “sprouted, soaked, or fermented grains“.  You can’t buy sprouted grains at Meijer. I can soak steel cut oats in yogurt, but I already have a hard time keeping up with the yogurt demand. I could order sprouted grains off the Internet, but that does not fall into the “local, sustainable” thing I am trying to cultivate. And I don’t even know what it means to “ferment” a grain unless it’s to make beer. I probably shouldn’t give the kids beer.

So now what? I need to buy a field and plant my own wheat?! All this change is not going to be so easy after all.

And that’s where I’m at. I am on the brink of planting, growing, and canning my own fruits and veggies, buying raw milk, and raising some chickens. Maybe a goat. In the backyard of my .25 acre Chicago suburb home. Any second now.

So as I figure this out which square inches of my backyard get the most sun, maybe I will inspire someone else to take a step forward in their journey as well. Maybe you? That’s all I want. For us to start figuring this out. Signing up for that CSA isn’t looking like such a chore now is it?


I think I am beginning to like vegetables! I was your stereotypical picky kid. I would only willingly eat corn and canned green beans, and I could force down broccoli under duress.

As an adult I started adding vegetables to my cooking mainly for aesthetics. After all, a shish-kabob looks silly with just meat and potatoes. At this point I serve veggies every day, and really don’t mind them at all.

But tonight, I looked at those snow peas and red bell peppers with a new longing. As they stir-fried up to a tender crisp, I popped one in my mouth the way my dad used to snatch bits of turkey while my mom was carving.

And it was so tasty!

What’s happening to me?!

Longing for Community

January 27, 2012

I am still trying to figure out the purpose of this blog. I know I want to communicate my thoughts, but I don’t know to whom. I know I would like to connect with others, but I find it hard to make meaningful connections in my day to day life. I think my angst can all be boiled down to this: I long for community.

I going to try really hard not to wax all nostalgic about the 50s. I wasn’t there and I know those who were are the same ones telling us they walked to school, up-hill — both ways!! But at the same time, I can’t help but feel robbed that I am living a 50s life with all the work, but none of the perks.

In many ways I am a stereotypical stay-at-home mom who does the laundry, manages the finances, cooks all the meals, and keeps track of the kids. But I don’t have a mom nearby who drops in occasionally with a casserole and hosts big Sunday dinners. I don’t have a neighbor who looks after my kids so I can run to the grocery store. I don’t have a brother who can fix the car once in awhile. And my husband does not have a job that offers a pension and premium health care giving us security about the future. For all the advances we have made in personal choice and feminism, I can’t help but feel we did it at the expense of security, stability, and community.

If anything I long for pioneer days — an entire family living on their own land, raising chickens and a cow or a goat, tending the gardens, working untainted, nutrient-rich soil. Grandpa rocking on the porch keeping an eye on the kids. Going into town, buying, selling, and trading with a small group of people that not only know you, but need you. All of a sudden that appeals to me.

Maybe to better understand what we’ve lost, it would be a good idea to examine what we have now. We do not have communities anymore. What we have are networks (that we often mistake for communities . We have our work network and school network. Some have a church group, other’s a mom network. Kids have their soccer network, and their karate network. But very few of these overlap, so our lives become compartmentalized. We are constantly packing and unpacking our various faces throughout the day and week. [1]

Before I go poking around the edges of this concept, let me try to illustrate it with a quote. John Gatto, an award-winning, New York schoolteacher who now writes books questioning the education system, explains:

Networks, however, don’t require the whole person, but only a narrow piece. If you function in a network, it asks you to supress [sic] all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part — a highly unnatural act although one you can get used to. In exchange, the network will deliver efficiency in the pursuit of some limited aim. This is, in fact, a devil’s bargain, since on the promise of some future gain, one must surrender the wholeness of one’s present humanity. If you enter into too many of these bargains you will split yourself into many specialized pieces, none of them completely human[….]The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense our lives are out of control because they are.

That message really speaks to me. “Our lives are out of control.” Don’t get me wrong, I get through my days well enough. I love my husband, my kids, and my family. I like what I do most days. But sometimes I feel so very alone. I talk to acquaintances everyday on Facebook, but can’t remember the last time a friend came over to chat and have coffee. If I want to have the kids next-door over, we have to move heaven and earth to schedule a “playdate.” If I manage to get some other moms over from Meetup.com all we talk about is diapers and extra-curriculars. No one dares offend by bringing up politics, and no one cares enough to ask if you have read anything interesting lately.

Granted, I never felt this way before having kids. But I don’t blame my family. I think in my “previous life” I just never slowed down for long enough to think about anything. Funny thing about taking care of kids… your feet are always moving, but your brain has time to churn. All of a sudden things matter again. It matters to me that we are destroying our foreign relations. It matters that to me that Congress is locked into partisan politics and will not budge. It matters to me that the rate of obesity is skyrocketing, and it matters to me that kids are graduating high school and college unprepared to contribute to society. For a few years now, I have been feeling really dejected and hopeless about these issues. I threw myself into just raising the best family I could and ignoring the rest of the world, and I stumbled upon a strange idea. The things I do have control over, are the things that can turn it all around.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today folks! Johnny just stumbled by like an old man looking for coffee (except he’s looking for PBS Kids). I better feed the horde and start my day!

[1] Diagrams were inspired by the article “Real Community“, from the Kingdom Watcher website.

I Need an Outlet

January 24, 2012

I sure can relate to this family
When I am not chasing after my three young boys (sometimes four), I spend a disproportionate amount of time at the computer. I think I am trying to work through all these major life changes that mark my 30s. Maybe this will provide a better outlet. Instead of just filling my head with the thoughts and opinions of others, maybe I can work it out here.

Why the Ultra Retro tag? Well… the two most important decision of my adult life (other than to get married and have kids) were to switch to clean eating and homeschool. And while these trends are actually very contemporary and cutting edge, if we do it right, then we will be copying a way of life practiced by almost every society a very long time ago.

So…. I actually do feel a little better. Hopefully I keep this up. If this blog turns into something and anyone ever cares to read it one day, then I hope this blog chronicles our journey from being a typical pizza eating, minivan driving, video game playing, well-meaning-but-thoughtless family, to a family that promotes personal responsibility, sustainability, a healthy environment, and lives on a commune growing tomatoes.

Well, maybe not that last part.

Is this what we’ll become?