Apr 082015


I must preface this post by saying that I am not a health nut.  I don’t follow a rigid diet or obsess over food (I refuse to live that way). I don’t exercise regularly, though I know I should, of course. I drink too much coffee, have a weakness for bread, and never remember to take vitamins. I freely admit this.

That said, in the 12+ years that I’ve been a full-time wife, mother, and homemaker, I’ve done a lot of reading and research about diet, and health in general. I’ve tried to make educated decisions and do the right thing for my family, though sometimes I’ve had to change my way of thinking in light of new information. I know that I’m far from perfect, but I really try to do the best I can at this whole family-raising thing (I don’t always succeed, but I want my kids to know that I cared enough to try).

Anyway, I tell you this because I want you to remember that I’m no more an expert than any other blogger (though some of them really seem to think they’re experts), and any advice I give you is not a substitute for medical advice, or for your own instincts. I also don’t want anyone to start comparing and contrasting because remember, these habits developed over 12 years….and that’s a long time. Also, I obviously have a lot of room for improvement, or I wouldn’t still be struggling to get rid of the same 20 pounds that I’ve been fighting with for the last 15 years.

I offer this post simply to share what works for us. As always, take what is useful to you, and ignore the rest.

1. No artificial sweeteners. Long-time readers may remember that once upon a time, I had a terrible diet soda addiction. It started in college, and worsened after I started dating my husband (who was even more addicted than me, if that’s possible). In 2008, I developed a mysterious illness that left me so weak and exhausted that I sometimes lost entire days to sleep. I was diagnosed with hyponatremia, or abnormally low blood sodium levels. The problem? I drank soooo much diet soda, which had an extreme diuretic effect on my body and depleted my electrolytes. Don’t believe me? The National Library of Medicine at the NIH has documented cases of this, and you will find plenty of anecdotal evidence if you google “hyponatremia and diet soda.” This is a serious problem, folks.

So I quit….and it was tough. My husband quit too, and we’ve seen enormous health benefits. My electrolytes are normal again. I don’t fall asleep at the dinner table anymore. My teeth are healthier (cavity-free for 4 years), I sleep better, I don’t have to return cans and bottles, and I don’t waste money on something with absolutely zero nutritional benefit. We also do not use stevia (it gives me killer headaches), aspartame, or any artificial sweeteners except xylitol (in homemade tooth powder) because it helps prevent tooth decay. There is evidence that artificial sweeteners may actually lead to weight gain, and I simply do not trust them. I still have the occasional Diet Coke if we’re at a restaurant, but my everyday goal is none.

2. Water, water, and more water. Have you ever heard of a book called You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty?

After I read this book, I realized that I was walking around in a chronic state of dehydration. Now, I aim to drink at least 2 liters of pure water every day, and I actually crave it! I’m very spoiled because we have our own well, so our water is free of chlorine, flouride, and other cancer-causing chemicals. I seriously cannot drink tap water anywhere because it just tastes like a chemical cocktail. I would recommend that if municipal tap water is your only option, consider purchasing a reverse osmosis filter (not Brita or the like – these are simply carbon filters and they accomplish very little).

They’re pricey, so if the cost is too prohibitive for you, look into buying 5-gallon jugs of RO water from the grocery store.

3. Celtic sea salt. My experience with hyponatremia taught me that if you’re drinking a lot of water, you must also be sure to consume enough salt. Salt is vital for your health, but I recommend that you avoid regular table salt, which is bleached with chlorine, and heavily processed (it also contains aluminum, a suspected neurotoxin). I prefer Celtic sea salt, which is produced through evaporation of ocean water. There is little processing involved, and healthy trace minerals are left behind, enhancing the flavor of the salt. Because I eat so little processed food and use salt sparingly when cooking, I measure a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt into a small dish each morning. I sprinkle it on my food throughout the day, to ensure that I’m getting enough.

4. Healthy cooking oils. There was a time when I baked with margarine because I thought it was better for me than butter. Now I wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10-foot pole! Everything we used to believe about saturated fats? Wrong! All wrong! There is no reason to limit healthy fats in your diet, but there is every reason to limit trans fats and sugars, which are just really, horribly unhealthy for you. I bake with extra-light olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, or butter (or a combination of these) use refined, organic coconut oil for sauteeing, and make my own salad dressings with extra-virgin olive oil. I will not use vegetable oil/shortening or soybean oil, and I won’t buy products containing these oils. And guess what? I switched to exclusively healthy fats 2 years ago, and since then my cholesterol (which has been slightly high my entire life – it runs in my family) has come down, and my husband’s is completely within normal limits. We both have normal blood sugar levels and blood pressure, too. I just had mine checked at the doctor’s office and it was 122/74 – the lowest it’s been in years!

5. Sunlight. I do not chase my kids around with a bottle of sunscreen because I know that the body needs sunlight to produce vitamin D. Sunlight is also good for your mood, and it helps regulate your body clock, so we all try to soak up the sun every day – when there is some, and within reason. It doesn’t take long to get enough sun for vitamin D production. For most people, 20 minutes is sufficient. I’m very leery of the chemicals in sunscreen, so I encourage my kids to stay inside when the sun is at its strongest. They only wear sunscreen if they must be outside for long periods in the late morning/early afternoon. In the summer, they do most of their outside playing in the late afternoon and early evening, to prevent sunburn.

6. Exercise. We all try to do some. I have an elliptical that I’m trying to get in the habit of using. Bee runs track. Cakes does Irish step dance, and bounces on the trampoline like a monkey. DJ runs and climbs and rides his bike all day long. My husband gets plenty of exercise now, just through his work (his weight is healthy now too!)

7. Scratch cooking. I know you’re probably sick of hearing me insist that you stay home and cook your own food, but this really is one of the best things you can do for your health – and your budget! I’m serious when I tell you that when I go to the grocery store, I can almost completely skip the inner aisles. I buy an occasional box of crackers or bag of chips, cereal or waffles for the kids, and sometimes a can of soup if somebody is sick. Other than that, I shop the perimeter. My cart is generally filled with produce and staples. I have no need to buy convenience meals or snacks, because with a little effort I can make far superior versions of these things at home! Also, I can’t say enough about the importance of adequate fiber and plenty of veggies! My rule is, it’s not a meal without a vegetable. I put peppers, onions, and tomatoes in my eggs at breakfast. I like celery with peanut butter, carrots with hummus, salads, or leftover dinner veggies for lunch and snacks. Dinner must include a vegetable, usually Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or green beans. Repeat after me: If it’s a meal, there must be a vegetable (but rarely corn or potatoes – these are too starchy and will cause spikes in blood sugar).

8. Clean meats. I’ve read several books on this subject, my favorite being The Bible Diet, but there is no substitute for Scripture itself! Eliminating unclean meats is one of the best things we’ve ever done for our health. The pork producers are big around here, so when we first gave it up we were not popular (I was teased pretty badly at a wedding for refusing to eat a pork chop), but now most people accept our choice, and some even make sure to offer alternatives if we’re going to be eating with them. We can’t eat pork now without getting sick, so no…we don’t miss it. We have plenty of variety in our diet with chicken, turkey, beef, and clean fish. Learn more about why we eat this way here.

9. Unscented everything. I do not buy any products with added fragrance (so if you sell Scentsy or anything of this ilk, don’t come knocking. I’m not interested). I buy unscented laundry detergent, soap, and deodorant. I make my own cleaning products with the most basic of ingredients – dish soap, lemon juice, borax, isopropyl alcohol, and water. Most perfumed products are terrible for you because they contain phthalates, carcinogenic chemicals, and potential allergens. Case in point – when I walk down the cleaning aisle in any store (but especially Wal-Mart), my eyes burn and I immediately start sneezing because wow – talk about a barrage of scents. Scented products are completely unnecessary. If you want your house to smell nice, just clean it. Open a window and get some fresh air. Light a match to burn off really unpleasant odors. You do not need Febreze or Glade Plug-ins, trust me….and chances are, they’re slowly poisoning you.

10. Adequate rest and sleep. I used to be so terrible about this. You know me, Little Miss Night Owl. I’ve always made sure that my children get adequate rest – in fact, it’s the number one parenting tip I give to new Moms (but only when asked because I don’t like to be obnoxious). However, I’ve always been inclined to stay up late myself, and I could make lots of excuses, but I’m really trying to fix this. When the last kid goes to bed at 9:00, I hit the shower and get ready for bed, too. I almost always am asleep by 10:00 now (my sleep quality is another thing altogether, but I’m working on it). If I feel sleepy in the afternoon, I know that I’m not getting enough sleep, so I move my bedtime up 15 minutes. Your body really needs this time to rest and repair itself, so turn off the electronics and go to sleep!

(Bonus: Going to bed early also contributes to intimacy with your spouse, and this is good for your health too! It boosts your immunity, lowers your blood pressure, eases stress, and improves sleep. It also strengthens your bond and makes for a happy marriage, so go for it!)