I was not born this way. I was not born into a family of hippies, vegetarians or yogis. I was not born watching what I ate, supplementing with vitamins or meditating.
I grew up in a suburban Philadelphia community where my friends and I went to TGI Fridays after the movies, ate cheesesteaks and soft pretzels and drank plenty of alcohol once we got to high school and college. We really didn’t think much about our health, the food we ate, where it came from or why the produce looked so shiny in the supermarket.
Like most people, my friends, family and I did talk about losing or gaining weight. That was the one subject that to us, marked how healthy we were.
The house where I grew up was stocked with cans of diet soda, boxes of Sweet N’ Low, frozen Weight Watchers desserts and diet salad dressing. My parents have been on one diet or another since the Carter administration.
One day back in 1999, my cousin told me that her New Years resolution was to cut out all artificial sweeteners. I didn’t understand why she would do this or how she could! How can one drink coffee without lots of cream and Sweet N’Low? But she shed light on how these chemicals could really harm us and that it would be a noble effort to rid them from her diet. It made sense to me, so I did it.
First, I switched from Diet Coke to Coke. Coke was so sticky sweet I could taste the syrup. I somehow got used to regular Coke but eventually grew sick of it.
I gave up cola, then soda, entirely. I couldn’t drink coffee black or coffee without sweetener (sugar never quite made it there for me), so I switched to tea.
I educated myself on the benefits of organic produce and began to buy organic from a neighborhood delivery service in New York City.
When I moved to Brooklyn, I joined the local food coop and worked several different jobs as required by the coop. I spoke with the educated cashiers, read the coop newsletter and website and listened to others around me while I shopped. I learned an enormous amount in a very short period of time.
Then when my son got sick and we went to a developmental pediatrician who suggested we take dairy and gluten (and eventually soy) out of his diet, my learning curve went through the roof. The internet can be an amazing resource for learning about food and how you can make little steps toward a healthy lifestyle.
I eventually gave up dairy, started taking omega 3s and probiotics and began to heal myself.
I encouraged my mom to join my shift to a healthier, more-chemical-free, diet. My mother had watched me evolve over the past decade yet, when she saw my daily regimen, she was like a deer in headlights - unable to move and protect herself from a dangerous appetite for industrial food.
But like me, she too has evolved; she must, if she wants to prevent disease and live longer than her parents. For many years, my mother looked at me and thought that she could never do what it took to change her lifestyle - she thought she was too old to change. But she is getting there, at her own pace. She now drinks green tea, no longer has diet soda, buys organic food and takes probiotics.
I imagine that for my mom, it was inspiring to see her daughter cure herself of ulcerative colitis. There it was, proof that changing diet and lifestyle could have a profound impact.
Will she take up yoga anytime soon? I don’t think so. But I guess one never knows how people evolve. I never would have thought I’d adopt my current diet - I had no idea how much I didn’t know when I gave up artificial sweeteners so many years ago.
So if the idea of change and learning all that there is about diet and supplements seems overwhelming, the best advice I can give is to focus on one goal. For me it was taking one ingredient at a time out of my diet – and it had a domino effect. Once you start to feel good (and successful!) with one change, you’re more likely to get excited and energized to do more - if more is something you need.
Pick one thing for yourself and take small steps - the first step is always the most difficult. With a little help from yoga, meditation or some other tool you might use to remain mindful of your body and your goals for good health, the rest will probably flow naturally. It did for me and for my mother - two very different women, on two different paths who each found what they needed, in due time.