I thought I’d tell you guys a story today.
You know how they say we teach the things we want to learn? That’s why I’m here.
I’m not one of those people who was always thin and active, and just fell into healthy living blogging as a natural extension of my life. None of this stuff has ever come easily to me. I was never good at sports, never had a raging teenager’s metabolism, and never knew I had control of my own health. I come from a family of women with weight problems and varicose veins–I figured I was just next in line.
So I’m here to change myself–and maybe, hopefully, to drag some people along with me.
I’m not done yet, but I’ve worked hard to get this far. And it didn’t happen overnight. I can think of a handful of turning points that were critical in getting me to where I am now–like getting into running, getting pregnant (and struggling with my postpartum body), and going on an extreme elimination diet to nurse my food allergic son.
But the biggest one was probably the time I lost a bunch of weight (that I needed to lose) while studying abroad in Mexico right before graduating college.
There were a couple reasons for the weight loss, and they weren’t all healthy ones. I can tell you that I didn’t exercise for a single minute, outside of walking to and from classes (and one very terrifying surfing lesson).
Our host families were only required to serve us 2 meals a day–breakfast and lunch–and we were on our own for dinner. In Mexico, breakfast is a gigantic meal, lunch is also gigantic (and happens a little later in the day–around 2 PM), and dinner is basically a little snack around 7 PM. A lot of my fellow students would go out for dinner together, and I’d go sometimes, but more often, I’d bypass a third giant meal for something small in my room–usually, it was a handful of these amazing Mexican chocolate cookies I discovered at a tiny store (and SO wish I could get my hands on today!).
So cookies for dinner = not the greatest habit in the world. But compared to an American dinner, they offered peanuts for calories–and so, weight loss.
Obviously I’m not here to condone eating cookies for dinner, but the other habits I picked up–eating most of my food in the first half of the day and putting a lot of emphasis on breakfast–were more positive.
And I know that the most important factor of all was the food itself.
First of all, I was in Oaxaca (pronounced Wuh-hock-uh)–waaaay down in the depths of Mexico. So we’re not talking about Americanized Mexican food. (Oaxacans would think Taco Bell was completely inedible.)
This was “real” Mexico.
I wish I could remember more detail about the exact foods we ate (this was–holy crap–7 years ago), but I remember a lot of:
—Soup. LOTS and LOTS of soup. Both hot and cold, but more cold than hot, and usually veggie- or fruit-based. Like, I’d get a side of cold carrot soup.
—Eggs. Most breakfasts, and some lunches, involved eggs in some way.
—Meat. Lots and lots of meat, often beef or chorizo, and often in rich sauces and served with thin tortillas on the side. It was a huge deal when the family cook (yes, the family had a cook–it was very common for upper-class Oaxacans) made the traditional chocolate-like sauce called mole (MOE-lay).
–-Rice and beans. But not as often as you might think, and not served the way they are in the states.
—Vegetable juices. I remember a lot of these too. If I had carrot soup for breakfast one day, chances were good I’d see carrot juice the next day.
—Tamales. These were also a big deal (I could tell by how proudly the family cook would serve them, and how she’d wait for my reaction) and SO awesome.
—Insanely good cheese called quesillo. It looked kinda like string cheese and tasted kinda like mozzarella (but 100 times better).
—Raw warm milk. It was delivered to the doorstep a few times a week, and we barely drank it (I think it was mostly used for cooking?). The very first night I was there, they asked if I wanted a glass of milk, and if so, did I want it hot or chilled? They were baffled when I said I was used to drinking it really cold.
—Dessert. I don’t remember a ton of dessert happening (which was fine, since the meals were SO filling and I was usually running off to class), but I do remember once being served peaches and cream. So simple and so incredible. (I’ve tried to recreate it since then and always fail.)
In retrospect, it was actually a very Paleo-like way of eating (minus the beans, rice, and cheese–which didn’t show up in my meals nearly as much as they do in American Mexican food). And similar to Paleo eaters, Oaxacans aren’t scared to eat “real food” for breakfast, rather than some nutrient-weak cereal or a super light breakfast of yogurt and fruit.
With my Mexican family (plus an alarmingly short shirt and my sweet Mexican earrings) on top, and Virginia, the family cook, below.
Another thing I found interesting was that my first impression of their food was that it was so bland. But that was also exactly what they said about American food–so bland.
I wonder if the difference is all the fake ingredients that show up in the standard American diet. We’re more accustomed to dramatic, unnatural flavors applied to otherwise boring food, while Oaxacans use lots of spices and naturally mega-rich foods.
Anyway, after a summer of eating like this, I came back 20 pounds lighter. Despite shoveling food into my face twice a day and ending each day with cookies.
My friends’ reactions to my weight loss was dramatic, and motivating.
For the first time ever, a new thought occurred to me: “so…I don’t have to be fat?”
With that, I turned a corner, and never looked back.
Do you have certain turning points in your health journey?
Did you study abroad?