Birth Story Follow-Up

 

 When I posted Shiloh’s birth story earlier this week, I wasn’t expecting so many views and feedback. Thank you! To date it’s my second-most-popular post. (Here’s my most popular post if you’re curious.)

I think sharing birth stories is a big part of healing and adjustment for mothers. Columnist Millie Hill, founder of The Positive Birth Movement, says it best in this article.

“All that matters is a healthy baby.” This phrase is repeated so often it has almost become a cliché. New mothers hear it over and over, usually the moment they begin to open up and say that having their baby was difficult or even traumatic. Sometimes they even find they are saying it themselves: “Giving birth was awful, but at least I got my healthy baby, that’s all that matters.”

Yes, a healthy baby is the most important thing by far. BUT, Millie says, it is not the only thing that matters.

Women matter too. When we tell women that a healthy baby is all that matters we often silence them. We say, or at least we very strongly imply, that their feelings do not matter, and that even though the birth may have left them feeling hurt, shocked or even violated, they should not complain because their baby is healthy and this is the only important thing.

So now that I’ve shared my story with all of you, I’d like to take it a step further. I’m opening up an invitation to all mothers who’d like to share their stories with me.

Maybe you had an empowering birth, or a disappointing birth.

Maybe you had a hospital birth, or a home birth, or a car birth.

Maybe you gave birth yesterday, or maybe it was 20 years ago.

Maybe you got your healthy baby, or maybe you had a stillbirth that not everyone knows about.

I’m here to listen. I’m here to laugh and cry with you. (Literally, I have all the hormones right now.)

You can post links to blogs you’ve already published. Or you can message me on Facebook. Or you can email me right here:

I won’t share anything without your permission. I really just want to open up a conversation where your story can be heard.

I’m all ears.

The Birth of Shiloh Mathias

I always really admired women who birthed naturally. I just didn’t see myself doing it. It seemed scary and painful and, to me, unattainable. Malachi’s hospital birth was an awesome experience. We got the spontaneous labor, natural progression, five-star treatment, and luxurious pain relief that we wanted. In retrospect, I realize we were quite blessed it went so perfectly because unfortunately a lot of modern-day hospital births don’t.

I started this birth out just wanting to replicate my first experience. Around the 7th month of my pregnancy with Shiloh it became apparent that wouldn’t happen. I had a different OB than last time and I liked his easygoing nature and hands-off approach to my low-risk pregnancy. It wasn’t until the week 27 visit that he mentioned birth itself. He said based on the size of the baby and the fact that my placenta needed to move up half a centimeter, it would likely be a C-section. “I know that’s not what you want,” he said. I asked if there was anything I could do to prevent a C-section. “Pray the placenta moves,” he said. Of course I would do that, and I trusted that it would. “And if the placenta does move?” “I’ll still want to keep an eye on his weight. I’m not delivering a 10 pound baby vaginally.” This really was a possibility. I was a 10 pound baby. My mom delivered me without a C-section. I knew it could be done. The doctor did a quick ultrasound right there in his office. “If you went into labor today, it would be a C-section. He’s currently breech.” Okay, this was getting ridiculous. I knew as well as the doctor did that I was not at risk for going into labor at 27 weeks, and there was still PLENTY of time for him to flip. In fact, he was head down at our last appointment. Clearly he still liked acrobatics at this point. I went home and cried.

I posted on Natural Mamas, an awesome Facebook group, about my experience that day and got an overwhelming amount of support. Many of the women encouraged me that I had other options. It wasn’t too late to seek out another doctor or midwife. The Birth and Wellness Center in O’Fallon was the most recommended and I had other friends who delivered with them. I decided to call and see if a transfer was possible. Once I did that it was out of my hands, and all up to God.

After some logistics and sharing of medical records I got the call that the midwives could take me. I was so happy – it felt like I had won the birth lottery! It took a fear of my doctor and a fear of medically unnecessary C-section to make me unafraid of the natural route. Josh was supportive and excited. I think he always admired natural births as well, but left the decision in my hands since I was the one who had to do it. We went to meet the midwives thinking we’d still give birth at the hospital. However, after getting ultrasound confirmation that the placenta had moved into safe territory, and Shiloh had flipped into a favorable position, I toured the birth center and saw how beautiful and relaxing it was. “I could deliver here,” I thought. I knew I’d be more likely to accomplish my natural birth goal outside of the hospital. That’s when I started seriously considering a home birth. It was ultimately no different than the birth center, just more convenient. I consulted a couple friends who had birthed at home and they had nothing but great things to say. I liked the idea of everyone coming to me and not having to pack a bag or get in a car. We were close to the hospital if a transfer was needed, and I’d even have access to the food in my own fridge! Once I got over the no epidural thing, home birth started sounding more and more appealing. I prayed about it and felt that once again God was giving me the green light.

Making all these last-minute decisions was kind of crazy for me. I’m a planner by nature. But I’m learning to enjoy spontaneity more and more, especially as it relates to God’s perfect timing. I don’t think I made a huge mistake going to the first doctor. I honestly think things were meant to happen in this order, and that it was all for the best. How perfect that he and I had the pivotal conversation when we did, with just enough time for the midwives to take me. Then we decided on a home birth with just enough time for the necessary preparations and home visit. God is good.

Our due date was the 15th. Sunday the 16th we walked to church and then met with our “Wolfpack” family that afternoon. I was getting discouraged because it felt like spontaneous labor would never happen. I was having contractions every night for at least a week but they weren’t leading to anything. At Wolfpack I got to meet our friend Lisa’s new baby and hear about her birth center experience. It was very encouraging. Then I lost my mucus plug! With Malachi I lost it the day I went into labor. This was a good sign of progress. I gave my family the heads up that it might happen soon. Mimi generously offered to take Malachi that night, even though she’d already watched him the whole weekend. I said yes, please! I missed him a lot, but felt that this was best considering how tired I was, the fact that the mucus plug might mean something, and I didn’t want to catch his runny nose before labor.

We tried to nap that afternoon but were too excited I guess. That night the contractions started like they always did. This time they were a little stronger. They didn’t stop when I tried to go to bed, so Josh and I walked around the house in circles to see if they would go anywhere. We talked about all sorts of things and made each other laugh. It was fun. We wondered how many other babies had been born in our 1908 house. We joked about how this compared to walking the hospital halls last time, past the nurses’ station and the strangers in the waiting room.

At 10:30pm I called the midwife number and Jessica was on call. I wanted to give her a heads-up that I might have to wake her tonight. (She later admitted the mucus plug was often a false alarm for people, so she didn’t take my first call too seriously…but I knew my body!) She said to try to go to sleep and to call again if contractions stayed strong and 6 min apart.

I tried to lie down, but the contractions still didn’t stop like Braxton Hicks. So we walked some more loops around the house…and ate ice cream to celebrate the fact that labor was finally happening!

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I called my mom and she came over soon after to keep us company. About 11:30 I called Jessica back and said the contractions were averaging less than 6 min apart and staying strong. She was there within the hour, freshly showered and ready for action. “I don’t trust second babies,” she said. We were all under the impression that labor would be shorter than Malachi’s…but anything could happen.

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A little while later the nurse Peggy showed up also. She took my blood pressure, checked heart rates, temps, etc. Then we settled down. Jessica had already had a long day, so she went upstairs to nap until things progressed a little. My mom tried to sleep too but was a little too excited. We all hung out in the dining room talking between contractions and having a good time. I was so thankful to be in labor! So in awe of how my body knew it was time and did this on its own. I rocked on the birth ball (thanks Mom for letting us borrow it!) and breathed through contractions. I was familiar with coping during this part of labor because I had done it with Malachi up to this point. My rhythm was good. We were all very chatty and a little slap-happy. Every now and then Peggy checked my temp and the baby’s heart rate. Hours passed, but if there hadn’t been a clock in the room I would have lost track entirely. My mom laughed about how easily I drifted in and out of contractions. I would be in the middle of a story, then pause if I needed to, and pick right back up. “They say if you can talk through contractions they aren’t that strong,” my mom said. “They don’t know how good I am at talking,” I said.

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Jessica came down after a while. She had caught a nap and was ready for the next part. It was fun talking with her and learning that she’d delivered SO many of our friends’ babies. Apparently we were a little late to the natural midwifery bandwagon! Josh and I were quite honored to have Jessica in our home and talk about her passion for helping mothers. I’m in awe of the hours she and the other midwives keep, delivering babies all night and taking appointments all day! So unlike the hospital, with nurses working several rooms, and the doctor appearing at the end to catch (in low-risk cases), here we had the attention of these women for our entire birth. What luxury!

We were thankful we didn’t have to decide when to go to the hospital or birth center. Peggy had set everything up to deliver upstairs in our bedroom. We joked about when to go upstairs, hoping we wouldn’t hit rush hour or have traffic on the way upstairs. We consulted Google and learned that sunrise would be around 6 am. Things were progressing alright, but not terribly quickly. I thought it would be cool to deliver at sunrise because our room has a great panoramic morning view. We finally made the trek upstairs around 5 am. Things were strengthening. We thought my water might break soon and we’d be pushing.

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I did a lot of kneeling on the bed with support from the birth ball or pillows. I was having to make more noise to cope with the contractions when they came. I didn’t want to know how far dilated I was, and the midwives don’t perform many checks, but it definitely felt like we were getting there. The windows were open and I was a little self-conscious about the neighbors hearing me during a contraction. The sun rose and it was beautiful. But Shiloh still wasn’t here.

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We ate some snacks and hung out as the sun rose in the sky. It got warmer in the room and we turned on the air conditioning (which is a big deal for us!) Jessica made some tea and relaxed in the corner of the room. The hostess inside of me was so glad she made herself at home! She mentioned her favorite midwifery quote is about having the experience to know when to sit back and be hands off.

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We started to plan ahead. Jessica’s shift ended at 8:30. She really didn’t want to leave us without delivering, but she also had a good friend in labor that day and wasn’t yet caught up on sleep from the last delivery. She said she was itching to know my dilation at this point and make an informed decision about calling the next midwife. I let her check me, but I still didn’t want to know the number. She told me just enough information. “You’re not at a five or anything. You’re moving right along and you’re very soft. But you’re not at a 10. I’m going to call Lisa.”

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Lisa, my other favorite midwife, had just gotten back from vacation and wasn’t even on call that night. She came anyway. She was energetic and well-rested from visiting her grandson out of town. She and Jessica debriefed in the hallway and traded off. Jessica really did hate to leave, but in retrospect it worked out perfectly having a fresh midwife for the intense pushing ahead. Jessica said goodbye and wished us luck and asked to be kept updated. Josh, Lisa, Peggy and I kept laboring as the intensity grew. We created a circuit of different positions that worked for me and allowed my body some variation. The contractions really did hurt if I wasn’t in the right position and able to move, but as long as I had movement and breathing I was able to cope just fine. “Pain without suffering,” like we read about in The Birth Partner.

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At a certain point I got quieter and the room changed a little. I started to want to be done, and my mind wandered off. I had little mini-dreams between contractions. I knew I must be in transition. That meant the end was near. Good. But it was also a part of birth I thought would be dreadful. This was a point where it really helped to be informed. “I feel discouraged but this is normal. This is transition and transition is progress.”

Lisa asked to check my dilation after a few moments. I really tried not to think about the time, but it was no longer morning…it was probably lunchtime by now. I complied and she accidently broke my water. Warmth gushed down my legs. She apologized several times, but I was thankful things were moving along. She and Peggy cleaned everything up somehow…I wasn’t really paying attention at this point. It was almost time to push. Lisa said Shiloh had rotated during descent and was no longer in such a favorable position. He was lodged in such a way that I couldn’t dilate the last half-centimeter. When I started getting the urge to push she had to use her fingers to push the rest of the cervix away until his head cleared. It was a bit uncomfortable.

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It took me several pushes to learn how to correctly channel my energy. At first I yelled a little too much. It helped with coping, but was really a waste of energy. Based on Peggy and Lisa’s feedback it was much more productive for me to close my mouth, hold my breath, and grunt. Pushing never felt involuntary for me, but it felt like the effort of pushing out a giant, hard poop. It was work, not “reverse vomiting” like I’d read. It didn’t hurt as much as I anticipated though. It just took so much effort, and I had to wait till a contraction hit for my pushes to have any power. In between I tried to slow my breathing and gain some strength. My body, especially my legs, were so tired and heavy at this point. Someone suggested we try a shower, which I refused. I was nauseous, but Lisa insisted I eat a banana and drink water in between so I’d have more energy. Everything they suggested, even chocolate, sounded awful.

With great effort, I tried several different pushing positions suggested by Lisa. Squatting. Toilet. On the bed. On the bed with one leg up. My body felt like it weighed a million pounds and my energy was definitely fading. I just wanted to be done. I knew we were close, but had no idea how I would find the energy to finish. Josh and I prayed for strength between every contraction. I was covered in sweat. Lisa and Peggy made comments about Shiloh’s position. I half listened. His heart rate was good, but his head wasn’t coming easy. They were optimistic and urged me on, but we kept having to try different things and it was taking altogether too long. My strength and my own optimism was waning. Thoughts started to creep in my mind of other ways to get out of this. Which was worse – trying to leave this far into things, or having to finish without the strength? Every push took all my energy. Every push received encouraging words of affirmation, but still no baby. They mentioned feeling the head, then seeing the head. Lisa tried to describe Shiloh’s hair to me. She said his head was molding into an interesting shape trying to get through. I just told myself that every contraction wave and series of pushes could be the last one. That, and having Josh there holding my hands and praying, carried me though. I know that Josh wasn’t just a passive observer. He was right there with me, sweating and feeling my pain, possibly even stronger than I did. I prayed too. I prayed for perspective. I prayed that I could fast forward the time and that it could all be over. “I need to be done,” I said several times.

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It took about two hours I guess, but finally there was a contraction wave large enough and a push big enough. I saw stars. I felt a head. It was halfway out.  It didn’t feel huge. About the size of a potato. I had to wait in discomfort for the next contraction wave to dislodge. When the contraction came and felt strong enough, I pushed and heard rejoicing in the room. His head was out. I pushed again and his body was out. I was done. There was no greater satisfaction. “I’m done. It’s over.” I was a little more interested in being done than the baby at first. Then they handed me Shiloh, all large and slippery and perfect. We were still attached. I turned around on the bed to hold him and get a better look at him. “Hi baby. You do have a weird head.” Those were my epic first words to him.

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We laid back on the bed and cuddled and started to nurse a little bit. Lisa waited for the cord to stop pulsing and Josh clipped it. A little while later she said the placenta was ready to deliver. One easy push and it was out. She and Peggy informed me it was probably the biggest, healthiest placenta they’d ever seen. Quite the compliment! They also remarked that his cord was thick and healthy. I guess my improved dietary habits with this pregnancy were worth something. He could have been nourished for quite a bit longer in there if he’d wanted to. Things were cleaned up around us. I leaned against Josh for support and cuddled Shiloh for a good long time. Mom put some pizzas in the oven and brought them up. Josh and I devoured it quickly. Shiloh figured out nursing like a rock-star.

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Shiloh was born August 17, 2015 at 2:53 pm after approximately 16 hours of labor. He weighed 9 lbs 6 oz and was 22 inches long. I did need to get some stitches, but I felt better and recovered quicker than I did with Malachi, in spite of Shiloh being nearly one-and-a-half pounds larger. Shiloh’s Apgar scores were great. Two 9 out of 10s. His head assumed a perfect, round shape after about 24 hours. He is now four days old and so well-adjusted to the world. He is really living up to his name, which represents peace and abundance.

Yet again, God has shown me his perfect timing. It is not always the same as my timing. I went into labor the day after my due date. That’s not bad at all, but waiting for a baby is REALLY hard! While I would have liked for him to come a bit earlier, I now realize that if I’d gone into labor even a day earlier Lisa would have still been on vacation. As it was, I got to birth with two very special women who I admire tremendously and wanted to be a part of it.

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The birth definitely confirmed that switching had been the way to go. My OB probably would have wanted to perform surgery as soon as Shiloh’s head got tilted and my cervix stopped opening. At the very least it would have been episiotomy and forceps delivery. But the midwives had even more confidence in my body than I did! I learned that trusting our bodies coincides with trusting our Maker. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not cursed. Even without drugs, my body’s natural pain relief and flood of hormones did an amazing job! When labor was over, I felt so chipper and awake. I was shaking all over with adrenaline. I looked around and wondered why everyone else seemed so drained. While it took a lot of endurance, I have never felt so relieved and empowered and fulfilled. It more than made up for it! Anytime we come to the end of ourselves, I believe that’s when we see God the clearest. I’m so incredibly thankful for this experience, that required me reaching my endpoint. We persevered and achieved the amazing natural birth I had dreamed of.

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Birth photo credits – Sharon Curry

Weird

I’m starting to realize that other people think things I do are weird.

Making yogurt. Baking bread. Fermenting sourdough and kombucha. Sprouting grains. Drinking green smoothies. Running. Insanity.

I’ve kind of immersed myself in a culture online and with certain friends that makes me feel I don’t do ENOUGH of these things. I feel I’m only halfway as out there as I could be. For instance, I’m still in complete AWE of 100% raw vegans, or homesteaders that make their own EVERYTHING from their own gardens and animals.

But of course everyone thinks of themselves as normal to some degree…we know our reasons for doing things and it all makes sense to us. No one thinks of THEMSELVES as a health freak, a dirty hippie, a hillbilly farmer, or any other derogative stereotype.

I’m starting to realize now that I’m far from normal. Most people eat “normal, American food,” so my family isn’t typical in that respect.

We don’t buy processed foods, white sugar, trans fat, or much meat. We load up on organic veggies and whole grains. Real food. We don’t eat out except for date nights. I feel like this is slowly becoming the “norm” for lots of people thanks to popular books, documentaries, and food science.

But it’s not there yet. To people who don’t know about all the different levels of food knowledge, we’re already at some weird and unattainable level.

Like when people who don’t run at all mistakingly think my husband and I run marathons. (We run 5ks).

Josh made a good point by asking me, who in our lives do we do that to? Who do we know with passions we don’t understand and mistakingly assume things about?

Good question.

So I’m not offended by the misunderstandings and the questions I get from people. Instead I’m trying to look at myself and gauge how I can better understand people who are different.

How have I misunderstood or been misinformed about you?

Fat!

There is a lot of confusion about fat in our lives! At one time I would mentally count how many grams of fat I consumed throughout the day, trying to keep it the number as low as possible. What I overlooked was how much sugar and carbohydrates I consumed!

Truthfully, I was a sugar addict who fell prey to marketing messages: margarine is good for you, skim milk is healthier, all fat is bad for you. I’m here to dispel those myths!

In his book “Food Rules” food journalist Michael Pollan says to “avoid food products with the word ‘lite’ or the terms ‘low-fat’ or ‘nonfat’ in their names.” He says this is because food producers often bump up the sugar to make up for lack of flavor, and “since the low-fat campaign began I the late 1970s, Americans actually have been consuming more than 500 additional calories per day, most of them in the form of refined carbohydrates like sugar….You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than binging on ‘lite’ food products packed with sugars and salt.” –Food Rules, Pollan, 2011

I made the switch from nonfat to full-fat dairy several months ago because it seemed silly to buy nonfat milk AND creamer. Why not just use whole milk for both? I also use whole milk to make my own full-fat plain yogurt. It is delightful!

Not only are full-fat milk and cheese products tastier, they are also more satisfying. I find I eat / drink a lot less because I’m actually full afterward! This is important if someone is trying to lose weight!

In addition, it is important to note the different types of fat. “Know Your Fats” by Mary Enig is an excellent scientific publication that goes into great detail about each type of fat. Enig stresses that polyunsaturated fats, and even those “evil” saturated fats are important for healthy skin, eyes, and brain development. The Weston A. Price Foundation confirms this. They have done a lot of research with babies and toddlers, and found that including saturated fat in their diet is very important – they recommend first foods being egg yolks and cod liver oil. Here’s their breakdown of fats.

So if fat is good for metabolism and healthy brain function why are one-third of Americans overweight? The answer is trans-fat! Trans-fat is the bad stuff that is prevalent in highly processed foods, margarine, and fried foods. It appears on food labels as “hydrogenated oils” or “partially hydrogenated oils” and it also lurks unlabeled in many restaurants and pot-lucks. Avoid this stuff. It is unnatural, and contributes to high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. –Know Your Fats, Enig, 2000

Ways to avoid trans-fats are by reading ingredient labels for that nasty hydrogenated stuff, cooking with coconut oil instead of refined vegetable oils, and real butter instead of margarine. Also avoiding fried foods is good idea (yes, that means french fries!) Giving up donuts is quite a sacrifice for me, but health comes first!

I know this is a complicated subject, and I’m no biochemist (but Mary Enig is!!) If you have more questions, I encourage you to check out her book and the Weston A. Price foundation. This blog by Food Matters is quite informative and goes into detail about how margarine and vegetable oil are made, and healthy alternatives for cooking.

Happy eating!

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Sugar!

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This is first in a food series I’m starting about the food choices we’ve been making as a family. I’ve already posted about our decision to cut out highly processed foods, but in these I’ll go into more detail about the science behind this choice. My hubby is joining me in this blog series by contributing to each post in his own words. The first topic we’ll cover here is SUGAR!

I have a sweet tooth.
Most people do.
Most people also know that sugar is bad for them. But what is sugar and why do we feel guilty after we overindulge in it?

What it is

Ordinary table sugar is scientifically called sucrose. It is made up of both fructose and glucose. Fructose is the same sugar that is in fruit.

High fructose corn syrup is a highly refined sweetener and appears in most processed foods. We’ve avoided HFCS for years, mostly because it signifies a cheap, low-quality food product and it has no nutritional value. But it’s important to understand that while avoiding HFCS is a good thing, the body handles both these sugars the same way: both will spike your blood sugar, both will give you a jolt of energy followed by a “sugar crash,” and both will leave you wanting more. More recently, we’ve made an attempt to reduce all refined sugar from our diet.

Why it’s bad

Aside from the sugar crash, sugar is addicting, bad for teeth, weakens the immune system, and excessive consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes. Every time we drastically spike our blood sugar, our body has to work hard to create insulin to regulate it. It’s all about balance.

And sugar is highly addictive. The more you eat, the more you want…but the reverse is also true: the less you eat, the less you miss it! There’s a lot of conflicting advice about food, from carbs to cholesterol to chemicals. But despite all the drama and debate, everyone seems to agree that lots of sugar is lots of bad. You don’t hear about scientific studies linking high sugar intake to high longevity. You don’t hear nutritionists promoting some new research about a traditional culture from the 1300’s that thrived on kilograms of honey and sugarcane. You don’t hear alternative bloggers touting their innovative six-packs-of-a-soda-a-day diet that revitalized their lives and made them feel 25 again. I (Josh) think it’s pretty interesting that people who disagree about so much agree about this.

Unlike trans fat (which we’ll look at next), sugar doesn’t seem to be so bad that it should be completely avoided. I (Josh) thoroughly enjoyed three pieces of pumpkin pie last month. Thankfully, consuming less sugar doesn’t have to be painful; cutting out most of the refined sugars that come in so many processed foods leaves lots of room for the natural sugars that come in so many delicious, nutrient-packed fruits. Even though we’re not really worried about obesity or tooth decay, the more we learn about more people saying more things about sugar, the more limiting our intake just makes sense.

It’s everywhere

Again, our problem with sugar isn’t that we wish to avoid it entirely…we believe it’s fine in moderation. Our problem is that it’s in everything! How can we consume it in moderation when added to every beverage, snack, cereal, condiment, and dressing out there? This has led us to make many things at home, like bread, tortillas, and yogurt. It’s more work, but to me (Emily) it’s worth it. I’d rather avoid sugar in the non-desserts so I can have it occasionally (in something chocolate) and truly enjoy it!

Sugar alternatives

There are some more nutritious alternatives to sugar, and I love baking with them!
  • Pure maple syrup and honey – These are natural, unrefined, straight from nature. Get the best you can afford. While they are still processed the same in your body (all sweet things are), they are the same sweet things our ancestors found in trees and enjoyed on rare occasions.
  • Coconut sugar – This is a lovely invention! It’s the evaporated sap of the coconut palm (also called palm sugar). It tastes like brown sugar, but has nutritious vitamins and antioxidants from the plant still intact due to its minimal processing. It also has healthy amino acids from the coconut. The best part is it’s cheaper than maple syrup and honey, and it’s a 1:1 substitute for sugar in baking!
  • Stevia – I don’t use stevia personally because I think the aftertaste is a little funky, but lots of people enjoy this all-natural, super sweet, no calorie alternative to sugar. I would stick with the liquid or the 100% pure powder, as some have additives to make it less concentrated (it’s many times sweeter than sugar and should be used a drop at a time!)
  • Fruit – Some fruit is very sugary. This sugar is fructose. I use it to my advantage. In the form of fruit (not juice, but the fruit itself) fructose is accompanied by vitamins, minerals, potassium, and fiber. Most recipes taste great sweetened with fruit alone. Oatmeal is fantastic with just some raisins or fresh blueberries as sweetener! Many desserts taste great with just a banana or handful of dates instead of sugar. Or try plain yogurt with frozen berries or mangoes mixed in as an ice cream alternative! Even when doing a week with strictly no added sugar, we allow fruits in our diet.
Those are some of the good sugar alternatives, but there’s also a lot of bad ones out there. I’m not a fan of agave nectar. Even though it’s from a plant, it has to be processed and heavily refined to make the syrup. The jury’s out on whether this is really unhealthy, but I still chose to avoid it.
Most importantly, please avoid all artificial sweeteners! The words “sugar-free” on anything probably mean there is a man-made zero-calorie chemical instead of sugar: aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose to name a few. These chemicals are not natural, and in my opinion, are even worse than sugar. (Maybe we haven’t discovered anything bad about most of them yet, but they haven’t been around long enough, either – unlike the honey and fruits that have thousands of years of experience behind them.) Please avoid, and if you need low-calorie, use stevia.

How to read a label

Unfortunately, the nutrition labels on processed foods don’t make it easy to tell the difference between refined sugar and natural sugar. So ignore that column that lists grams of sugar and go right to the ingredient list. There you can easily see if there is any ADDED sugar in the product. Applesauce is a great example, as apples are high in natural sugar. The label may say 23 grams of sugar in a serving. It sounds like a lot, but if the only ingredients are apples, water, and cinnamon, than it’s all naturally occurring fructose. If the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, put it down and walk away slowly.

How to break the sugar habit

It’s hard to start, but easy to maintain a lower-sugar lifestyle. I (Emily) started by cutting sugar out of my coffee and tea. That was a big step, but the less you eat sweets, the less you crave them, and the more special they are when you do have them (made from scratch, with natural sugar substitutes!) I’ve found my threshold for sweet is much lower now, and I enjoy other flavors more as they are allowed to take center stage.If you’re trying to cut out added sugar, we’re here to support you!

Stay tuned! The next post is about fat!

Sources and further reading:
What to Eat – Marion Nestle
Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food – Christine Avanti
Salt, Sugar Fat: how the food giants hooked us – Michael Moss
In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan

Real Food Basics

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During my recent pregnancy I followed my cravings and ate whatever sounded good…baked goods, chocolate, and sugared cereal everyday. I ate some good stuff too, but I definitely thought “hey if I’m gonna gain weight, might as well have fun doing it!”
In addition, I was under the impression that fat was bad and sugar (as long as it wasn’t corn syrup) was okay.

After having a baby, it’s great because you lose lots of weight no matter what you eat. Fun stuff!!
But after the initial “I just had a baby, I can eat whatever-the-heck-I-gosh-darn-want-to” period, it was time to get healthy again.

I stumbled across Lisa’s blog and her rules for eating.

It sounded way over the top crazy hard to me at the time! But you can take these principles and apply them to your life!

What we’re doing:

No processed pre-packaged snacks or beverages (chips, granola bars, convenience foods, sugared cereals, or candy other than dark chocolate).

When buying pre-made things (some bars, bread, meat) the fewer ingredients the better! Try to stick with less than 5, or at least ingredients you can pronounce!

No refined sugar whenever possible (opt for sugars naturally occurring in fruit, honey, and 100% maple syrup). This was huge for me since I have such a sweet tooth! But I started small. I stopped putting sugar in my morning coffee / green tea. Didn’t miss it at all after a week. Now I don’t add sugar to anything!

No dyes, additives, or preservatives whenever possible. (This is hard, I know, but if you’re buying as few ingredients as possible, it will cut down on this!)

Realistic grocery store switches:

Instead of protein powder – Greek yogurt
When Josh started lifting weights, we read the labels on all protein powder and pre-made bars and found they have a lot of mystery ingredients and high sugar/sodium. So instead we make smoothies out of Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and milk that are about 30 grams of protein each.

Instead of processed sugar – 100% maple syrup, honey, dates, or bananas to sweeten.
Can be substituted in most recipes (I’ve been re-writing my whole recipe book with healthier substitutions! Haven’t used refined sugar in months…thinking about just tossing it!) We’re not huge sticklers if we go out or to someone’s house, but at least in our own house we’re not using it. There’s lots of great whole food dessert recipes online! (Mywholefoodlife, choclatecoveredkatie)

Instead of snacks or granola bars with lots of added sugar – unsalted nuts and dried fruit

Instead of ice cream – freeze bananas and make banana ice cream

Instead of frozen pizza – buy ingredients to make your own.
Or make easy meals like quiche from scratch and freeze them for the convenience.

Instead of refined salt – sea salt.
I just threw away two bottles of the nasty stuff. Lots of chemicals in that!

100% whole wheat flour instead of bleached white flour (and bread and pasta).
Can be subbed in pretty much any recipe. This is an easy switch! Just make sure it says 100% whole wheat or whole grain. “Wheat flour” is a vague euphemism food makers use to make white bread sound healthier…it’s just normal flour.

Instead of margarine – real butter.
Don’t worry about the fat as much as the chemicals and colors they use to make it “butter like!”

Instead of cheese-like slices – real cheese!
Again, get the full-fat real thing. Just don’t overdo it if you want to lose weight.

Instead of jelly or preserves – buy fruit and make your own.
You can easily make preserves with just 2-3 ingredients. Or at least buy one that’s sweetened with fruit juice instead of sugar (Trader Joe’s has a juice-sweetened super fruit spread).

Instead of deli meat which often has nitrates, nitrites, and very high sodium – buy raw chicken or pork in bulk, cook it in the crockpot and slice.
So much healthier, and this one is even cheaper!

Instead of vegetable oil- coconut oil (as much as possible).
Can be used for cooking, frying, baking, everything!

Instead of bottled salad dressings – olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I just made my own ranch dressing with Greek yogurt, and it is way better than the bottled stuff!
It is my goal to make our own ketchup and BBQ sauce in the future also. For now we stick with types that contain no high fructose corn syrup.

Instead if sugared cereals – get good at making oatmeal.
We eat oatmeal or eggs every morning. On weekends we sometimes make pancakes or waffles from scratch. Have fun with this! Did you know you can make your own granola in the oven? With no refined sugar?! Sugared cereals aren’t healthy and aren’t nearly as satisfying as a big bowl of oats or homemade granola. I look forward to my breakfast every morning, and and if I add ground flaxseed, whole milk, and chia seeds, I don’t get hungry for hours!

Don’t stress about buying all organic or all grass-fed! If you can, great! But don’t let the pressure to eat “perfectly” get in the way of your eating “well.” Do the best you can that’s within your budget and available in your area.

Avoid things labeled “diet” as these usually are more processed to remove fat and have chemicals instead of real sugar.

Go crazy with veggies, fruits, berries, seeds and nuts!

Aim to eat fish at least once a week. They are the best natural source of omega-3s and are lean and full of protein.

The cost should even out. Because for every healthy thing you’re buying, there’s a lot of stuff you won’t be buying anymore. It’s all about replacing. And making things from scratch is actually cheaper! (Pasta sauce, salad dressing, tortillas)

Every body is different, but that’s what we’ve been doing. It doesn’t make sense to eat chemicals and things we weren’t designed to digest.
It’s not about dieting… You should never be starved while eating real food! (You should never be overfilled either.)
Increasing our protein intake, cutting out refined sugar and reducing sodium helped josh and me reach our goals. We both gained muscle and I lost more than all the baby weight.

Stop worrying about fat.
Don’t count calories.
Focus on eating real things and let your appetite guide you, not your salt / sugar cravings.

To learn more about the science, check out some real-food books at the library. I enjoyed this one a lot.

If you’re serious about making some food changes, let me know so we can support each other! Even if you chose a different variation, (grain-free, paleo, vegan, etc) I love talking about food in general!

When everything you make is natural / handcrafted, you enjoy it more!
Real food actually tastes better!
You can buy some nice plates or jars if it helps. Take pictures of your beautiful creations! Host dinner parties as an excuse to make better food. Savor those morsels, every flavor in its fullness! Enjoy!

Happy

I’ve been thinking a lot about how happiness is a choice.
Contrary to popular belief, happy people aren’t stupid.
They aren’t necessarily oblivious to the world.
In fact, happy people are often more engaged than others.
They take the time to notice the small things, like a child who stops to watch the smoke rising from a chimney, or stops to wave at the passing train.
(Doesn’t Jesus point out that we’re to be more like small children?)

The book “The Power of Positive Thinking” is better than I thought it would be. While a little old-fashioned, it’s a great reminder of how to “make it a habit to be happy.”
This is accomplished through constant prayer, being aware of your inner dialogue, and tapping into God’s strength.

Happy people don’t all have easier lives. In fact, some of the happiest people I know live in very, very hard circumstances.
Happiness and energy can be achieved regardless of income, social rank, job title, marital status, etc.

Do I think all people everywhere are called to be happy?
No, I think we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
Jesus was a man if sorrows – not inside-outside-upside-downside-happy-all-the-time.
However, I believe Christians are called to be the light in the world, and not let small everyday things bog us down. People should be able to tell that something’s different about us and look to God to find it. (Matt. 5:16)

Lately I’ve found myself getting stressed over the smallest everyday chores such as getting dinner ready and doing dishes.
It was bad enough…then our dishwasher broke!
Rather than let a broken dishwasher get me down, I’ve realized that dishwashers are a huge luxury item and it’s actually not that bad to just wash dishes by hand.
God certainly speaks through the small things…

I often hear the phrase: “You’re having too much fun to be at work.”
To which I reply, “No such thing!”
Whether I’m at work, in traffic, or spending time with my family, I want to chose to walk in happiness.
The truth is, I benefit from it.
The truth is, it’s contagious.
The truth is, the world is a messed up place but my hope isn’t in this world.