A scary, eye-opening experience happened with me a year ago, last November. I found myself in one of the most severe episodes of PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) I had ever experienced. My poor, poor little boy was lying on the floor crying and I was screaming right in his face like I was possessed by a demon.
This was not me.
Let me make this clear: I am a loving mother. I believe yelling at children is harmful to them, and I have zero desire to harm my child or impede his development in anyway. Nothing is more important to me as a mother than retaining a trusting relationship with my child. It was not me that was screaming in my child’s face. Neither was it a demon. It was a mental illness.
That experience really shook me up. It forced me to look harder at myself than ever before. After having my child, it seemed all my flaws had come to the surface in a much more visible way than ever before in my life. And that’s just the thing–I thought of my anger as a flaw, something that I needed to learn to tame, or deal with some emotional root cause, or get more fresh air and exercise and do more meditation and prayer and scripture reading to prevent myself from getting angry in the first place. I tried everything and everything failed me.
On some level, I had known that there was something not right with me. I truly believed myself to be a patient person. I wasn’t choosing to be out of control emotionally. It was something that was happening to me, rather than something I was intentionally doing or even allowing myself to do. I had noticed before that my condition was always worse in the late fall and through winter, as well as getting feelings of depression, so I figured I had Seasonal Affective Disorder. For a few years I had tried surrounding myself with more light, in hopes that it would help. I also realized, I think it was two years ago, that my symptoms worsened right before I started my period. That’s when I realized that I also had PMDD, the eviler twin of PMS. I started taking some supplements that eased my symptoms but they were only small pieces of the puzzle and did not take care of the overall problem.
Soon after the horrid screaming incident, I started reading the book Little Sugar Addicts. It’s weird that I was even reading it because my son was not addicted to sugar but I was trying to uncover the cause of his mood swings. As I read the book I began to understand how the food I was eating was affecting my mood. This was just the tip of the iceberg. I have since read Nourishing Traditions, started following some traditional foods blogs as well as a couple of paleo/primal blogs, started seeing a naturalpathic doctor, and I very recently read the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome . Oh, my, do I ever have a different outlook on mood disorders. In essence, here is what I’ve learned:
Standard American Diet = Seasonal Affective Disorder
and other mental illnesses
and thyroid disfuntion
and other menstrual-related problems
and fertility issues
and irritable bowl syndrome
and other GI disorders
and chronic fatigue syndrome
and developmental problems
and heart disease
and many, many other ailments
What drew me to the work of Weston A Price was that he studied isolated “primitive” peoples who were untouched by modern ways of eating, and they were free of all these diseases and ailments. Why?? Food. So much of our health comes down to what we eat. We ARE what we eat, after all. Literally. Now, these groups of people did not all eat the same diets; in fact, they varied considerably. Price determined to find the common factors, which were things like: Eating at least some meat with the fat, and also the organs, bone marrow and bone broths. Eggs. Seafood, cod liver oil. Vegetables where they were available. Fermented grains in some groups, but not in the large amounts that Americans eat them. Raw dairy, cultured dairy, butter. Fat consumed came from animals, not plants (except coconut, which is very saturated). Very, very, very little sugar, never refined, usually honey (raw of course).
What do Americans eat? Well the government has their opinion of what we should be eating (and since they are government, they must be right, no?): A nice, heavy base of grains. Yep, so many grains that there is no way you would have enough room in your diet for the 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables they recommend. Oh, and only about half need to be whole grains, the rest can be refined crap. A moderate amount of meat/eggs is recommended, although nuts and beans are somehow in the same category as other protein foods, so according to them, you can have either meat OR beans/nuts/legumes. Dairy is considered important, simply for the calcium, which means you can have it completely stripped of all the highly nutritious fat. In fact, that’s what they recommend! There is very little room for fat on the food pyramid (or “my plate” as it is now called). Of those few little fats, mostly they want you to have plant oils (nope, doesn’t matter if they are ultra-refined and rancid, like canola oil). Nevermind that all the cells and nerve coverings in our bodies are made up of mostly saturated fat. I guess they think our cells will work just as well with a floppy polyunsaturated fat structure. (It’s true, the fat we eat becomes the fat our cells are made of–we really ARE what we eat! Well, except that eating fat doesn’t necessarily make us fat, since in a proper diet fat is also burned as energy.)
Okay, so that’s the recommended. It doesn’t sound awful. What is truly awful is the way that Americans actually do eat. The average American consumes 25% of their calories in the form of high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t just sugar, but isn’t even a real food. The average American consumes 9 ounces of meat every day. This amount of meat wouldn’t be so bad (maybe not even bad at all) if it was from animals that were properly raised, which most meat isn’t. Then there is the problem of the meat being paired with bread/pasta/potatoes or other filling less nutritious foods, leaving little to no room for vegetables. There is the problem of so many people being intolerant of conventional dairy, so they either eat it and suffer the consequences, or they opt for highly processed milk substitutes. There are those who don’t eat meat at all, perhaps due to cost, ethics or religion, and risk suffering nutritional deficiencies unless their gut is in amazing condition (exceedingly rare these days) and they carefully follow a proper vegetarian diet. The scary thing is that many people do not realize that fast food and processed (boxed/canned) food is not real food. Some children these days have no idea where cheese comes from or have ever seen a real tomato. They think food is manufactured in factories rather than grown on farms. Even people who eat a sensible diet are likely eating factory farm animals, eggs, and dairy, and produce grown on deplete soils with pesticides. Very few Americans eat highly nutritious organ meats (I still don’t, but plan to add them soon), bone broths, fermented/cultured foods (natural probiotics), or cod liver oil (or enough seafood in general). There are ‘health nuts’ that think they are doing right by having fat-free salad dressing, which is full of sugar and non-food ingredients, when they could have a dressing made with nutritious olive oil, or they cut away the nutritious fat on their meat, eat skinless chicken or cook without fat on toxic non-stick cooking pans, and then wonder why they are depressed, tired or not loosing weight.
To my dear friends, fellow Americans, and humans around the world that live in Americanized societies, I say, please stop eating like this! God created all the food our bodies need to eat. Factories, laboratories and chemicals are NOT required for us to be nourished. Our modern system of eating has got us so detached from our food that we barely think about how nature actually works. If you raised meat chickens, would you slaughter the animal, eat only the breasts and throw the rest away? Eating right in a modern world is very hard to do until we break our habits of convenience and start thinking like a primitive person. By that I mean we need to eat as though we would if we had to work hard to grow and raise (or hunt and gather) our own food. No factories. No labs. No artificial crap. As little waste as possible. This is what is known as a ‘traditional diet’ in the real food world. This is what we need to be eating. This is what is helping me to–finally–overcome my anger issues (I’m not in the clear yet, but WAY better), as well as seasonal affective disorder (I can sit around the house on these gloomy Oregon winter days without feeling depressed like a lot of people around here). My energy is up, and I feel healthier than I have in my whole life. I still have a ways to go, but I am definitely headed in the right direction.
I really would like to go on and share more of my story; how I was led to a traditional diet in the first place, and how I discovered bit by bit the various nutritional deficiencies I had–that not only caused mood disorders in me but other ailments as well–but I think that would be enough fuel for a whole other post.