Chasing Wellness

Swim LessonsHow are you doing on your fitness resolutions? Yeah, right.  If you’re at all like me, nothing was accomplished yesterday.  But today’s a new day. The best part of every morning is the opportunity to start over.  And even if you only put one foot forward today, it’s progress.  We all have to start somewhere.  It’s in the keeping going that success is found.

Nutrition is the first step to achieving overall health, although it is often overlooked.  Just like with a car, junk fuel means junk performance.  A steady diet of Cheetos and Mountain Dew doesn’t translate to having the competitive edge at the next 5K.  Aim for less sugar and junk carbs while pushing more colorful vegetables into your main meals.  That’s it.  No wild diets or crash programs that run you into the ground faster than last year’s Bikini Body program.  Eat Smart, Move More is a good, workable philosophy.

But let’s be realistic. Accept that we will all make regrettable food choices, most likely today. There will be office and tailgate parties where “imitation food product” is the only option.  So have a backup plan for when the judicious chef’s salad can’t fend off the  hot fudge marshmallow banana split chasing it down.  Running all those calories off before bedtime isn’t really feasible.  Smart planning, ahead of time, is the ticket to long-term health.  Plan what you will eat at the next meal – before you’re hungry for it – and put exercise onto the calendar to keep any splurges in check.

KayakingSo many people think exercise must mean running.  It doesn’t.  Physical fitness is a combination of cardiovascular strength, muscular strength, and flexibility.  6-pack abs look amazing, but they won’t help much when trying to keep up with toddlers for an entire afternoon or washing your back in the shower.  It takes all three to be truly fit.  Focus on endurance one day, muscle tone the next, and stretch out the kinks on Day 3 to achieve a comprehensive fitness program with the added benefit of keeping up interest over the long haul.

Getting your head in the game will be a huge asset.  It is much easier to actually move off the bed each morning if there’s something fun to do.  “Let’s go pump iron” sounds like work. Dogs are great exercise buddies since they have to go out in the morning anyway.  Grab the leash and go find some bunnies together!  Going farther or faster – or both – is more realistic once you’re out the door. Look for what inspires you to choose health, whether it’s not ruining a good workout with junk food or a buying a new outfit to reinforce improved eating and exercise habits.  Small strides in all these areas will add up and synergy will begin to work for you.

But that’s just physical stuff.  You and I are made of more than just flesh and bone.  We are made in the image of God; our bodies are His temple and His Spirit (should) reside in us.  Spiritual nutrition and exercise are necessary for health on this third plane.  Just like food for our bodies, the Bible contains the essential elements for fueling a healthy life.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

There are few people who will say the Bible is an easy read.  It must be chewed thoroughly, frequently, and in its totality (no spitting out the onions!) before being put into practice.  Real life exercise of Biblical principles is essential to full incorporation.  This is harder work still.  But no pain, no gain, right?  If we are to remodel ourselves and approach total wellness, all the aspects must be part of the program. The Apostle Paul said, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:8)

We are not just getting ready for the high school reunion.  Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54).  The food of Scripture and the blood of His life must so completely infuse us that the exercise of total wellness overflows into our surroundings.  And the ripples from that could make a big impact over time.

The Wheelbarrow Concept

I have a book on my shelf titled, “The Cure is in the Kitchen”. It’s a rather off-the-deep-end book nutritionally, but I just really like the title. It helps me to stay focused on what’s truly important in my family’s health. In spite of so much research into finding the magic key to different diseases, the statistics alone point to our diet. The genetic component of most diseases appears to have more to do with the family recipe box than DNA.

Every day, I see how obesity and diabetes rates have risen beyond all probability. Autism has gone from being one child in a thousand to one in sixty-six, while bipolar disorder and ADD have become household words – just in the last 20 years. These bits of news frighten me, but they haven’t affected me. Allergy and food sensitivity, issues which also have skyrocketing statistics, broadsided me early. My oldest son was only two when he went deaf and doctors couldn’t resolve the fluid constantly plugging his ears and throat.

Since their treatments weren’t working, finding the cause became hugely important. It helped to find out what he was reacting to, even though I already sensed much of what the tests showed. He was allergic to more than 50 common food items, and was sensitive to many neighborhood trees. How was I supposed to deal with that?

I began watching how he felt and acted each day as clues to what, exactly, was affecting him, along with when and how. I journaled everything he ingested, along with his emotions and activities. Merely reading labels wasn’t enough; I found that I could only trust whole foods I’d prepared myself. I had an especially hard time cutting back our sugar intake, but was encouraged to find the reason. According to Mercola.com, sugar is highly addictive and lab rats will choose it over cocaine, even if they are already addicted to the drug. Sugar causes a myriad of neural symptoms, many of which are subtle. Kicking it will be hard, but the paybacks are big.

As I learned to make more foods from better ingredients, I also taught the children to make their own cookies and desserts. This had a two-fold purpose: limiting their intake to what they were willing to make and eliminating any hidden ingredients. They also learned some very useful life skills along the way. Yet the trademark allergic symptoms of plugged ears and nasal congestion continued to plague us, and little brother was showing some symptoms that might possibly be autism.

The turnaround point came when I learned about the “wheelbarrow concept”. On any building site, workers haul loads of rocks, dirt, and bricks. Each load is heavy, but the workers manage it. While it’s tempting to want to just make one heavy load of everything, that load overwhelms the tools available. Essentially, what the wheelbarrow concept explains is that no worker can haul rocks, bricks, and dirt together in his wheelbarrow without it tipping over or breaking.

It translates to food this way: while I know my kids don’t handle milk products well, they can eat them in moderation. Sugar is not normally a problem, nor is corn. However, combine them in a bowl of Frosted Flakes – pile three small things into the wheelbarrow together – and they become giddy and boisterous. About an hour later, they crash, more distraught than if their dog had died. The reaction is totally out of proportion to the ingredients and not always obviously related to what they ate several hours previously. Add a cheeseburger and a soda for lunch (more corn syrup and milk products), and the body begins protecting itself by producing mucous in the ears or inflammation in the gut.

Knowing to avoid one item or another was great – but synergy works negatively as well. Several items that aren’t significant stressors on their own combine together to make a big reaction.

This little tidbit of information shouldn’t be all that earth-shattering. Doctors have known for a long time that prescribing too many drugs to old folks will cause more problems than Granny started with. Food is no different. To a person with grass allergies, eating wheat bread during hayfever season could be life threatening. Realizing that it may not be one allergen but a combination of seemingly fine foods helps to define the problem so as to find the solution.

Once I’d figured out which combinations were problematic, I separated them into groups. Corn, milk, and wheat went onto separate days. Each group was eaten no more often than once in every four days. The idea is to give the body time to clear small problems singly and not overload it with troublesome combinations. It also ensured we were eating a varied diet, which began building our immune systems to handle allergens more efficiently. Within four months, the food sensitivities began to subside, as did the autistic suspicions. My weight normalized and seasonal illnesses no longer haunted us. While a rotation diet of whole foods is not a panacea, it sure went a long way toward lowering our medical bills.

And that was the proof Daddy needed that the slight extra on the food budget was a good investment.

Choosing Health

“NO, NO!! BAD DOG!! NO!!!” The words carried all the way through the walls of the kitchen into my shower this morning. The commotion had moved to outside my door when I heard another, softer, voice: “Ohhh, that was naughty. Outside with you now.”

Buddy’s at it again. Sure glad this pup is going to his new home today. He’s a nice dog, but he just cannot resist unattended food. My son lost only a small part of his bagel this time, but the other half had a mark where an attempt had been made on it, too. At five months old, Buddy is a big, sturdy mix of hound and who-knows-what, a heart full of love and a tummy that’s always empty.

I wish I had the same excuse – that I’m a growing pup with no self-control. That would be convenient. No, I definitely know better. I don’t need that bagel anymore than I need the extra dog, but when it called my name, all good intentions went out the window. I was focused on health today; colorful salads and smoothies were planned instead of breads. And yet one look at that abandoned half of a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted with cream cheese on top, off center on its napkin where it’d been bumped during the heist – I was done for.

If the devil wore red tights and carried a pitchfork, we’d all recognize him. No, no…. he comes disguised in your favorite comfort food or those hot red pumps, luring you to drop your good convictions and sell your soul for a moment of indulgence.

And I do know better. I’ve been studying health and nutrition for 16 years now, and know far too much to allow something as silly as a white flour bagel to undermine me. You’d think. I’ve been learning more and more about how grains very quickly turn to sugars in the human body, useful as immediate energy but transforming quickly into those extra pounds on my hips if I don’t go running the minute I eat them. I’ve also been noticing how, if I eat bread, my belly almost instantly bloats. In two years of watching my weight, it’s gone up two pounds every weekend – when I eat out. A bagel for breakfast and a sandwich and soda for lunch on Sunday are all it takes for me to look like the Pillsbury Doughboy until Tuesday.

That bloat cannot be good for me. So, since soda’s not a huge issue for me – I can take it or leave it and I’m more prone to the latter – I’m focusing on breads. Should be easy enough. Yet the minute I dropped bread from the menu, my cravings for chocolate went completely out of control. I’ve never been able to give up chocolate, only switch to higher quality so the impact of fillers and sugar is lessened.

Now my reading took a scary turn. “In one study, when rats were allowed to choose either sweetened water or cocaine, an astonishing 94 percent of rats chose the sweet water. Even rats that were addicted to cocaine quickly switched their preference to sugar once it was offered as a choice.” (Mercola.com)

I’m up against a powerful force here. I can drop sugar itself in a heartbeat, but not chocolate. And my handmade artisan breads? Please don’t tell me that what I’ve so lovingly crafted, grinding and fermenting fresh wheat berries, kneading until my arms ache and then filling the house with that oh-so-wonderful aroma isn’t good for me and my family. But the reality is that I only get to that maybe once a month now; it’s the everyday sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie (or three) that is actually a shortcut to disease. I’m starting to have more empathy for my fellow man, who doesn’t appear to be fully aware of the dangers inherent in his lunch.

Grains cause low-level inflammation in many people (me) which is easily overlooked and a sign of the body’s struggle to cope with a problem which, if left unaddressed, will eventually turn into something more serious. Diabetes and cancer were rare diseases in my grandmother’s day. Yet their growth rate corresponds very closely to that of fast food establishments and sugary boxed cereals. What I see on my belly is an outgrowth of the standard American diet, overly reliant on corn and wheat – it is not fat, it is a major illness’s first symptoms.

Sugar, and grains turning into sugar, are in everything we eat. It’s obvious that I have no more willpower than this pup and am sucked into warm breads and chocolate chip cookies more certainly than if Scotty himself were beaming me. But every attempt I make at dietetic self-control points out again how very weak I am. Making whole grain Ding-Dongs from scratch may impress the kids, but it won’t kick my sugar addiction.

Eve doesn’t look like such a doofus anymore, taking the forbidden fruit from the serpent. I seek it out and prepare it myself.

I’m brought back to the very feet of God.

And then I came across the simplest, most basic factor in all my research. As a homeschool teacher, I’ve taught science, botany, and biology. Essentially, the way each cell works is to give up waste products in exchange for nutrients. If the exchange rate or route is messed up, disease or death results.

Wait, wait – “exchange waste for nutrients”? “Now [we] are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) In my relationship with God, I am always trying to make myself acceptable to Him, somehow cleaner, nicer, and more worthy of His work in me. Stay with me here – I’m thinking out loud. If we are the body, we are doing work in the physical world, becoming dirtied and used up in the process. That is the design. It is only as we exchange our waste for His purity that we are nourished to continue and grow. We must accept His life into our very being with nothing but trash to give back. It seems a crappy exchange to our materialistic minds, but it’s just another fact of life. This is how stuff works.

<pGod has surrounded me with nutritious foods designed to perfectly nourish my body. I need to take them, not the counterfeit packages of more industrial waste that men pawn off on each other. I need to turn away from the cookie and soda and choose fresh, whole foods in order to make an impact and go the long haul. This is His temple, after all. /p>

Dr. Stanley S. Bass took it one step further. “

Nowhere is the principle of forgiveness of sins more manifest than here – in our own bodies – when we forsake our evil and destructive ways of eating (the defiling of the temple of the soul). God (or Nature, if you please) gives us a whole new chance for a new glorious life.

All repentance must begin here in the body, through pure diet and natural foods. Then, just have faith, sit back and watch what happens.

If I will merely turn my back squarely on the grains and sugars until I break their hold over me – asking for His strength to do so – and seek out His best in food both physical and spiritual, I will be remade new and healthful.

Pizza

Chicken alfredo pizza sounded really good. I made one a few weeks ago, but I didn’t remember exactly how I’d done it. So I did what I did then: I googled it. I found a different recipe that looked very promising.

I can hear Jon from here, saying, “Except…” I don’t follow recipes well. I have a vision of what I want before I start, and I don’t let ingredient lists and measurements get in my way. It’s just a guideline, after all.

I always start at my mill, grinding fresh wheat berries. I don’t consider switching flours to be an adaptation, although I know it can change things dramatically. This bread came together a lot quicker than expected, and I ended up not adding any white flour. It was still light and rose well. Next time, though, I will probably add more salt to bring out the flavors in the crust.

The Parmesan sauce turned out great and I added mushrooms to the chicken and spinach on top. I did feel it needed something to hold it all together, so I covered everything in mozzarella. We like extra cheese. Another dusting of Parmesan and a little more rosemary for looks, and I’m calling it good.

Twenty minutes later….

And y’know, it felt really good to just putter in my kitchen. There’s something soothing about picking through spinach leaves for the freshest ones, slicing soft mushrooms and grating a knuckle into the fluffy pile of cheese. Well, maybe that’s not my favorite part – but it’s a part. It’s my badge of honor. I love kneading bread dough until it’s the consistency of a baby’s bum, and then rolling it out (since I’ve never mastered the pizza toss.) There’s real satisfaction in putting together, with your own hands, a nourishing meal for the family. And that’s important.
(Day 30/365)

Storms and Slinkies

So many thoughts in my head today; it’s really hard to pick one and focus.  Health and faith are two topics of intense interest to me.  I could lose myself in readings on this all week  and forget to eat.  And that’s what the sermon was on this morning: faith and healing.  So is my puppy sick because I asked God to find homes for them and this is His way of getting rid of them?  Because I sinned and didn’t post yet another ad on Craigslist like I promised?  Or is my puppy just sick and I will pray for him and tend his needs and leave him in God’s hands for better or worse?  I know that, regardless what happens to Jake, I will praise God for being with us through it.  And Jake will have a good, loving home his entire life.

This afternoon a big, ugly thunderstorm passed overhead.  It made a lot more noise than anything else, but I loved how ominous it was.  Life is like that so often.  Scary noises with dark, threatening clouds all around.  Flashing lightning and chest-rattling thunder.  If I shivered and hid in fear at its fearsomeness the way my little ones do, I’d miss the point.  God is big.  He is beyond my control, and some of who and what He is and does scares the daylights out of me.  But if I trust that He loves me and I will be more fit for the very purpose He put me here as I marvel at His might – I will see that without the rain, I would die.  Without the wind there would be no cooling temperatures.  Without the threat, my faith would be untested.  I myself would not know how much I could truly withstand or how far I could trust my God.

The younger kids got slinkies today.  It didn’t take them long to figure out how to get them to go down stairs and then walk a bit across the floor.  It was in my teaching Pips how to do it, that I saw God’s hand.  If she holds onto her slinky and controls how it falls, it is stopped at the first step.  But if she sets it on the launch pad and gives it a small shove from behind toward where it should go, it will go the distance.  It may go off the side or down the center, but the goal will be achieved.

It’s faith.  Trusting that what I aim at will be achieved.  And if not, I will go somewhere else.  I will be stronger and wiser.  I can shoot again or refine my sights, but I will be closer to God’s path, either way.

And I find that the closer I get to God, the more the ups and downs of life make sense.  And the diverse conversations I have with miscellaneous people all dovetail together into one theme.  Without faith, nothing else works.  Without God, words are so much unhelpful blather.  With faith in God, the whole color of the world has changed – and I see it, because I’m out in it, actively looking for what’s next.  

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap”

I really enjoyed driving next to this car this morning.  It purred like a kitten.  The back window was down, as were all the rest, and the older couple at the helm were happily chatting as they cruised.  I had a little trouble catching up.   It was when I did come alongside, though, that I saw the period cooler in the back end, no doubt packed with a picnic for later in the day.

So now for my thoughts:  it takes a lot of money to buy a new car every year or so, and it is not the most effective method of fiscal management.   I don’t have the skill necessary to restore the cars I like that are in my price range to what I would/could drive.   Maintenance.  Take care of it today and it will take care of you tomorrow.  Little spots become big rust if  habits are not in place to prevent them.

Routines are the most important thing I can implement to make my life easier.  With the habit of good food choices, my body lasts longer and I feel better.  With proper work habits, my career will go further and my home will be more livable.  Habitual grace will keep friendships intact.

And never, never give up a good habit once it’s instilled – it is an indentured servant that will serve you consistently without you ever having to think about it.

Life will get out of hand at times, though.  And when it does, restorations are still possible and good, even if they take a while to implement.  Steady, positive progress is the way to accomplishing anything good.

(Day 21/365 – Three weeks!  I’ve officially established a new habit of daily blogging!)

Decisions

Depression is always on the outskirts of my brain. But today it wasn’t getting the upper hand. It was just too beautiful outside. So I paused during my run this morning to shoot the GMC that has illustrated how I’ve felt so often.  Abandoned in a power line easement; how much more hopeless is that?  But I was out on the road, running wind sprints like a hero.  It’s a new day.  I played with the photo when I got home because it just had to be drained of the colors of sky and grass.  Brought back memories of being in the darkroom, and how much I used to enjoy playing with photos then, too.

The children obviously thought it was a lovely day, too, because school happened outside between bursts of the hose.

And at the end of the day, I couldn’t decide between photos.  You know what?  It’s my blog: I’m using both!

(Day 4/365)