A Catholic Army Wife Goes Paleo
By Erica McCullagh
Does the word “cook” arouse fear in your soul?
Truth be told, there was a time in my life when that’s how I felt. Although my mother made delicious meals and baked scrumptious desserts, I wasn’t much interested in cooking as a child.
But once out on my own, I was young, fabulous, and knew everything there was to know about life’s intricacies. I also thought I was a good ‘cook.’ I could follow any recipe on my prepackaged, ‘just-add-meat-and water’ dinner in a box. I could operate a can opener like no other and perfectly pour that delicious can of “homemade” soup into the pot. Heat and stir! The same goes for my ‘freshly’ prepared, canned vegetables, yogurt topped with boxed granola, discount bread slathered with store-bought peanut butter and jelly — or sometimes even peanut butter and marshmallow cream!
Once out on my own, I was young, fabulous, and knew everything there was to know about life’s intricacies. I also thought I was a good ‘cook.’
Little did I know that I was completely clueless about how to eat, when to eat, what to eat, and what was even considered ‘real’ food. Fast forward seven years, and I found myself quite miserable: married for five years, moved around by the U.S. Army three times, and twenty pounds overweight. I was tired and run down. I was constantly irritable and I felt emotionally unstable at times. What had happened to my fabulousness?
As 2008 dawned, my husband and I joined a gym, pledging to eat better and get healthy. The first six weeks went swimmingly. So well, in fact, that I conceived my first child right away. I was shocked!
There is nothing in the world that can make a woman turn her entire world around faster than conceiving a precious, delicate, new life. In my case, that is exactly what happened; I was determined to maintain my new healthier eating habits.
I was tired and run down. I was constantly irritable and I felt emotionally unstable at times. What had happened to my fabulousness?
After the fifth month however, I decided to give in to a tiny craving. I went to Dairy Queen after dinner and ordered a small Oreo Blizzard. Oh my goodness — heaven from the first bite! After that first treat, I had an Oreo Blizzard at least three times every week. Soon, I graduated to the medium size. Sometimes, I ordered a large.
Of course, adding a 750-1000 calorie treat a few times a week wreaked havoc on my body. By the end of my pregnancy I had gained 70 pounds and been diagnosed with high blood pressure and preeclampsia. This resulted in a crisis environment for my child during labor and lead to an emergency cesarean section. Had I done this fifty years ago, both my baby and I would have died.
This resulted in a crisis environment for my child during labor and lead to an emergency cesarean section.
Baby Food from Scratch
When it was time for her to start eating solid foods, I bought her baby food in a package, until one day I read the food label. I began to wonder how the ingredients listed did not spoil for almost two years from the date I purchased them. How could they require no refrigeration? My mother’s intuition warned me “something is not right here.”
My research led me to start making her baby food from scratch. I found some excellent books by Anabel Karmel, with simple, easy to follow recipes which could be doubled and tripled with any extras frozen. I vowed never to buy prepackaged baby food again. Not only did her food taste better, there were no added preservatives, artificial food coloring or flavoring. I found so much joy in cooking for my daughter, knowing that with each bite her little body was being nourished the way God had intended.
However, even as I was doing all of this wonderful cooking for her, I was not doing anything for myself. Most of my food still came from a box or a can, and only required minimal additions to become a complete meal. And before I knew it, we were moving again due to my husband’s career in the Army. This time, we were headed to Germany.
It had been almost a year since I had my little girl, and I was still 45 pounds overweight. My stateside doctor told me, “Be careful over there with the pastries or you will get fatter than you already are.” (That doctor had some nerve, I tell you!)
I could feel my self-esteem sinking lower and lower. I was run down, tired, irritable, and sad.
Eating Dirty, Eating Clean
Over the next several months, I could feel my self-esteem sinking lower and lower. I was run down, tired, irritable, and sad. I had to make a change. I talked to my husband and told him my plan — making changes in how I was eating would affect him as well. I was not going to be cooking three different meals for each family member. He agreed and was on board with me.
‘Eating Clean’ by Tosca Reno gave me ideas, backed by proven research. Her plan made logical sense, and I felt confident that I could make her strategy fit into my life. Eating clean was pretty easy, and I started losing pounds right away. My confidence began to rise. I was sleeping better, eating better, and feeling better. I was beginning to look forward to each new day instead of dreading it.
My favorite part? Just as when I began making homemade baby food, I knew exactly what was in my food and every ingredient that was nourishing to my body. I continued eating this way for about seven months, and began exercising more. This combination helped me to lose 35 pounds, bringing me back to my pre-pregnancy weight.
Okay, but not fabulous.
My confidence began to rise. I was sleeping better, eating better, and feeling better.
Then, everything stalled. So I began researching once more on healthy lifestyles, and found the Paleo Diet (http://thepaleodiet.com). After doing a lot of reading, I decided to try it for one month. Would I like this? Would my body respond?
Well, my whole world changed again. My weight started dropping (15 pounds in one month to be exact), my energy increased, I slept better than I had in years, and my digestion issues were fixed. My acne (at 30 years of age!) completely disappeared and my skin was glowing, my chronic inflammation was gone, my hair was shinier and my nails were stronger. My energy level went through the roof; I could chase my two year old from dawn until dusk and still have some energy left over. I have now been happily eating Paleo for two years, and I have never felt better. My health has improved tremendously as well. Every now and then I will eat something non-Paleo, but I don’t beat myself up about it.
Why? Because at the end of the day, I have to live my life, and sometimes that means I can’t be perfect. Mistakes happen and I’m caught unprepared. But I just get right back on the Paleo wagon the next day and all is well.
My energy level went through the roof; I could chase my two year old from dawn until dusk and still have some energy left over.
Cooking For a Young Family
The single, best lesson of this whole process has been learning how to cook healthy and delicious meals for my family. This is key; in recent years my husband has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving me alone with our child for months at a time. He came home to a happy, healthy family – and the daily blessing of a real meal together, at home. Eating together, after a Catholic grace, forms the stable core of our day.
What worked for me may or may not work for you, but the best thing to do is to start. The longest journey begins with the first step. Keep things simple, not complicated, and just go for it!
My husband has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Eating together, after a Catholic grace, forms the stable core of our day.
Skillet Apple Pie
1 cup blanched almond flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (can substitute butter or coconut oil 1:1)
1 tablespoon agave nectar, honey, or 100% pure maple syrup (grade B)
2 tablespoons grape seed oil, butter, or coconut oil
5 medium apples (about 2 ½ lbs), peeled, cored, and sliced ¼ inch thick
½ cup apple juice
¼ cup agave nectar, honey, or pure maple syrup (grade B)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg white
Position an oven rack in the upper part of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500*F.
SAUTEEING APPLES: In a medium bowl, whisk the apple juice, agave nectar, lemon juice, arrowroot powder, and cinnamon. Stir the apple juice mixture into the skillet with the caramelized apples and sauté, stirring to avoid sticking.