Friday, September 4, 2009

My Health Profile (part 1): The Formative Years

Health awareness and a desire to be in the best health I could be began at an early age for me. I can recall being six or seven-years-old and eating the crust on my bread -- not because I liked it, but because I was told it was good for me. I would choke down green peas or iceberg lettuce in order to satisfy the arbitrary requirement for something "green" with dinner. Last at the dinner table, I sat slowly chewing gristly, lean meat until every morsel was gone. Then, and only then, could I indulge in some ice cream.

A craving for real food seemed to permeate my childhood. Lean, well-cooked meat, cereal, 2% milk, enriched wheat bread and pasta, and the occasional cookie (or two or three) didn't seem to satisfy this craving. I often found myself nibbling on margarine when clearing the dinner table or spreading some other butter substitute on bread so thick that it would leave teeth marks. Naturally, I desired something fatty and rich and nutrients, but since no such thing was available (besides cheese), I went for the trans-fat laden, unreal goop that was as close to real butter as I could find in the refrigerator.

All that being said, I'd like to believe that I ate better than most kids growing up in America in the 80s and 90s. Or maybe I just ate less junk food than most kids. It seemed to be rare in my friends' households to limit soda and candy as my family did, or to only have dessert when dinner was finished. My family also emphasized exercise, and my brother and I were engaged in sports by age 4. Also, as much as I hated it as a kid, I have to give lots of credit to my dad for insisting that I play outside during the day and only watch a maximum of 2 hours of television daily. This certainly kept me active and physically fit growing up.

At the tail end of elementary school, it was time for that orthodontist-assisted rites-of-passage we call "braces." Pictures of me before the procedure reveal that I was your typical crooked-teeth, pinched nostrils, narrow-faced kid.

When middle school approached and I began to have more responsibility for my health, I would frequently spend some of my lunch money on the soda machines on school grounds. I was up to a 3 soda per day habit, and I felt guilty because I knew soft drinks were "bad" for me in any amount besides moderation. Fast forward to Freshman year in high school when I began abstaining from sodas completely after making a deal with my mom that if I stopped, she would stop, too. From then on, it was mostly water, orange juice, and occasionally gatorade as my beverages of choice. To this day, I haven't taken up drinking sodas again.

High school was a time of pumping iron, playing sports, building muscle, and trying my best to eat "right" according to what the bodybuilders at the gym were recommending: egg whites, protein powders, and lean meat -- essentially an emphasis on protein as the ultimate food and keeping fat as low as possible. Yes, I was attempting to adhere to a low-fat diet. That's probably why I ate so many fructose-fueled Power Bars. I was compensating for the lack of fat in my diet. Looking back, it's astonishing to see how "puffy" my face and overall musculature was. It was also during this time that I had my wisdom teeth removed, a "necessary" procedure (according to the orthodontist) if I was to prevent future dental disasters.

Following high school graduation, I thought, "Time to start being realistic." The expensive protein shakes and Power Bars were not economically viable options if I was to survive in the real world. Nor was a gym membership. I drastically changed my diet and lifestyle to appeal to my economic sensibilities. I stopped lifting weights and pounding protein shakes and began experimenting with hiking for exercise and eating cheap staple foods like beans and rice, pasta and tortillas. A month later, my muscles deflated.


chlOe said...

Great story so far, man.
I can attest to the "teeth marks" in the butter - well, fake butter. I forget what we had, real or not..I just remember loading it on everything. Yaa knowww, I had to actually see the butter to believe it was there.

Somehow I ended up with straight teeth..some how. My baby teeth were less fortunate.

Ryan Koch said...

So you never had to have braces? Wow, that's rare these days. Lucky gal you are!

chlOe said...

nope, none of us (my siblings), had braces. I think that's about nearly the only luck I got, though. aaahaaa

Dana Seilhan said...

Just found your blog and wow, I had an a-ha moment reading this post. I used to snack on bread spread thickly with margarine when I was a teenager. I'd even sprinkle sugar over the top of it. Wasn't my idea, my brother came up with that one--but once I tried it I was kind of hooked. My dad was in the Navy and when he was deployed my stepmom only bought 2 percent or skim milk; when he was home he insisted on whole milk. My odd snacking seems to have coincided with his not being home. I used to think it was just because I wasn't as afraid of getting caught. Now I wonder.

It wasn't like we went out of our way to eat low-fat with the exception of the milk but because of finances we'd get fake cheese a lot (that awful oil-based crap), and we'd often get frozen meals with lean meat in them, and that kind of thing. Lots of vegetable oils, fair amount of Crisco in baking. If we'd been vegetarians I'd have been even crazier than I already was with the family stress.

Had braces, too. Dad had dental problems as a kid and teenager but as far as I could tell his teeth had not been *crooked.* Mom's teeth are straight. Neither of them are healthy eaters. I think I know what my problem was. My teeth were even more crooked than yours...

My daughter's even worse off. My teeth are slow to decay, for all the trouble I've had with them, but out of poverty and necessity I ate a high-carb diet when I was pregnant with her. Lots and lots of grain, not nearly enough fat and what there was of it was largely of plant origin. Then her kidneys and bladder developed wrong, with one undersized kidney and urinary reflux, prompting the doctor to put her on antibiotics for a year and a half until she had corrective surgery. I think these were all contributing factors. She's four, has had an upper incisor pulled, and has decay in nearly all her teeth. I don't brush them any differently than I did her older brother's--if anything, I brush them more--yet he never had a cavity and she has tons of them. They have different fathers, but I see no reason it should be genetically encoded for a person's teeth to rot before they're five.

Would that I'd found Nourishing Traditions when she was still an infant. I have lots of bad dietary habits of hers to compensate for now. Simply feeding her meat or egg yolk as her first solid might have done her a lot of good. The sad part is, she's still eating a relatively healthy diet for someone her age.

Glad you figured your stuff out before you were too far gone. I have a lot more to fix than you did. It sucks.

Ryan Koch said...


Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear about you and your daughter's health challenges -- sounds like you've been through a lot.

Hopefully you'll experience a turnaround soon! Keep me posted ...