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Five Changes for a Healthy New Year

It’s that time again.  You and everyone you know is vowing to make changes–especially changes in regard to diet and exercise–that will lead to health and happiness.  Of course, we all know that where diet is concerned following the latest fad will never lead to lifelong health or a slimmer figure.  Forget the diet plans and the hyper-focus on the health food du jour that promises to bring you perfect health.  If you want to get healthy, lose weight and, most importantly stay healthy and slim, you must make a complete lifestyle/diet change and then continue to live/eat that way for the rest of your life.  There are no quick fixes.

Let me say that again:  There are NO quick fixes when it comes to health.  You must make lasting changes in order to stay healthy and keep the extra pounds off.

At the beginning of 2012 I was 70-80 pounds over my ideal weight.  I was plagued with horrible, life-disrupting health issues such as IBS, high blood pressure, near-hourly heart palpitations and chest pain, sometimes crippling anxiety and irritability.  I was experiencing headaches and joint pain on a weekly basis, sometimes as often as every other day. And, like many women, I didn’t merely experience PMS, but instead PMDD, for which I occasionally took prescription sertraline.  In addition to that, I was taking beta-blockers for my blood pressure, but they didn’t always help. I took a full dose of OTC loperamide hydrocloride almost every other day.  I swallowed acetaminophen almost daily, but refused the narcotics I was prescribed for the headaches fearing the physiological and psychological dependence with which many of my former therapy clients struggled.

In early 2012 I came across information about traditional foods and read about nourishing the body with the nutrient-dense foods that were once the main staples of the American diet.  I knew this was the way that I should eat and the way that I should feed my family.  By March of 2012, I had purchased my first gallon of local, raw cow’s milk and was slowly making changes to our diet.  By the summer of 2012, I was off all medications, my blood pressure was normal, I had begun to lose weight (41 pounds and counting!), my headaches were gone and I could exercise again without pain and my IBS symptoms were much better.  (Even now, the first telltale sign that I’ve eaten badly is that my IBS symptoms return.  It’s an excellent gauge for how clean my diet is.)  The anxiety is long gone and the PMDD is now just occasional, noticeable hormone changes that force me to listen to my body and spend more time on self-care as needed.

I have experienced such a dramatic change in my health and my life that I want to share it with everyone.  I have made many changes that I am outlining in a e-book, which is due to launch in the summer of 2013.  While each and every change I have made is important, there are five that stand out to me as being the most essential to my improved health and weight loss.

If you want to make changes to your health this new year, try these five steps:

1.  Cut out refined sugar.  

In my book, I do not list this step first for two reasons.  Number one, it was not the first step I took toward health.  Number two, it’s probably the most difficult step for most people.  See, at the root of my health issues was an addiction to refined sugar.  Refined sugar includes table sugar, corn syrup, powdered sugar, brown sugar, etc.  It is nasty, vile stuff.  Simply cutting out refined sugar alone will give you an incredible health boost and lead to weight loss.

I believe that most people who eat refined sugar are suffering from some degree of addiction to it.  It’s important to understand the nature of physiological addiction to understand why you may be addicted to sugar.  See, refined sugar works on the brain in the same way that cocaine does.  It increases dopamine levels, which gives us a sense of pleasure.  When we participate in activities that increase dopamine, we find ourselves going back again for more.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  Having a glass of water when we are thirsty gets our neurons firing.  It’s when we get the “dopamine reward” for an activity or substance that is harmful to us that things get tricky.

Refined sugar, unfortunately, harms our body.  For the sake of brevity in an already lengthy post and because he explains it so much better than I can, check out the following video about the dangers of refined sugar:

If you are convinced that the refined sugar in your diet must go, take it slowly.  I suggested replacing refined sugar in your diet with unrefined sweeteners.  Choose from Organic Grade B maple syrup and maple sugar, SuCaNat (SUgar CAne NATural, dehydrated, unrefined sugar cane), raw honey, molasses, coconut palm sugar and coconut palm nectar.  Once you have kicked the refined sugar addiction, try to keep your added sweetener consumption to less than 5% of your total caloric intake.

And, for the sake of heaven and all things holy, do NOT use artificial sweeteners of any kind EVER.

2.  Cut out refined salt. 

I’m sure you already know that a diet high in sodium is harmful to your health.  More accurately, a diet that has an imbalance of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium is harmful to your health.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is notoriously high in sodium and low in potassium and magnesium.  This imbalance can lead to cardiovascular problems.

Luckily, cutting out refined, iodized table salt does not mean that you have to suffer through bland meals.  In fact, a liberal use of unrefined salt is encouraged.  My oldest son, an athlete, even has his very own shaker of salt at mealtimes because he likes to salt each bite before it goes into his mouth.  I used to be very concerned about this habit until we began to use healthier salts.

Check out this video by Sarah Pope, Weston A. Price Foundation chapter leader and blogger at The Healthy Home Economist:

Our favorite salt for both cooking and sprinkling is Himalayan Pink.  It’s pretty and delicious! It, along with other salts such as unrefined sea salt, provides the optimal balance of minerals and other nutrients and promotes health instead of destroying health like conventional table salt does.
3.  Eat more fat.
 
If you are currently eating a low-fat diet, you need to knock it off.  Seriously.  Also, stop cooking with vegetable and seed oils and please, please, please stop eating margarine and the like.  Eat more butter and coconut oil.  Do it now.  Use it liberally.  You cannot eat too much butter, lard or coconut oil.
Yes, I’m pretty serious about fat.  Over the past 9 months I have consumed more saturated fat than ever and still lost weight.  I have been very careful about my consumption of polyunsaturated fats, attempting to achieve a better ratio of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.  I’ve been especially cautious about consuming heated (and therefore rancid) mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
I know this advice goes directly against everything you’ve ever been taught (or heard in the news media) about the dangers of saturated fat.   I suggest that you find a copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat and watch the following video:
4.  No more processed foods.
 
It’s not a secret that processed foods are unhealthy.  If you are a  coupon queen, you likely try to ignore that fact in order to save on your grocery bill each week.  If you want to lose weight and experience health (or stay slim and healthy if you already appear to be) you must replace processed foods with whole, made-from-scratch foods.
I know we’re all busy.  As a full-time working, home schooling mom, I know we’re all busy.  I also get that groceries are not cheap.  I can only say that the extra preparation time and money spent for healthier, unprocessed food is well worth it.  It’s also not as time-consuming or as expensive as I thought it was before it became a way of life for me.
Replace breakfast cereals with soaked oatmeal.  Make homemade chicken broth and forego the chemical-laden tetra-packed junk.  Learn to use organic herbs and spices  to flavor your foods and dump the boxed ground beef “helper” meals.
Grow it yourself, make it yourself, nourish yourself.
 
5.  Eat animal products from healthy animals. 
 
If you haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, put it on your reading list for 2013.  If you are going to eat animal products (and I highly suggest that, for optimal health, you do consume animal products) you need to know where your food comes from.  You need to be painfully aware of how animals are treated in Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs).  You need to understand that if you are buying conventional animal products at the grocery store that you are supporting a disgusting and dangerous industry.  Even organic animal products are not always fit for consumption.
Although I do not wish to offend my readership by posting pictures, videos and links to the atrocities that are conventional, industrial dairy, chicken, pig and beef farms, I want you to take this step very seriously.  If the animals you eat are eating crap, then you too are eating crap when you eat them and the products they provide.  I do not agree with modern medicine and it’s belief that eating animal products is dangerous to one’s health–unless that is, one is eating factory-farmed and conventionally processed animal products.  If you are drinking conventional, pasteurized-because-it-is-too-dirty-for-consumption milk, your health will suffer.  If you are eating the chemical-laced fat from red meat, your health will suffer.  If you are consuming the eggs of factory-farm chickens, your health will suffer.
My first step toward better health was to source local, raw milk.  My suggestion to anyone looking to make a positive change in his or her health is to find a source of raw milk.  There are many products that can be made from raw milk that are nourishing and health-promoting.  Check out RealMilk.com for local sources of raw cow’s and goat’s milk.
Seek out local farmers for grass-fed meats by consulting LocalHarvest.com.  Often these farmers use organic practices–and even practices that go above and beyond those required by the government to be certified organic–but lack the funds to become certified organic.  Seek farmers who will allow you to tour the farm and explain to you their farming practices.  By purchasing your animal products from small, local farms you’ll not only be increasing your health, you’ll also be supporting the local economy and sustainable farming practices.

Again, this is not a comprehensive list of the steps I took to regain my health and lose weight–you’ll have to wait for the book!  This is a list of five of the most important changes I made to my family’s diet and changes that will set on you on the right track toward feeling, functioning and looking your best.  Don’t attempt to make all of the changes at once, but instead use the next year to research each step and slowly incorporate each into your daily life with the intention of eating in this nourishing manner for the rest of your life.

I wish each of you, my valued readers, a new year of small hours filled with health and peace.
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