What are your thoughts when you catch that lady with a package in her hands, scanning the food labels in the grocery aisles?
Me, honestly? I roll my eyes, then I judge her. What does this snoot think she is doing? How about you stop torturing yourself and just fill your cart with vegetables? Although, they say, food really can affect how we feel. Does it actually make a difference? This sounds so cliche.
One of the biggest struggles a mother battles with is what to feed her family. Whether it is dealing with food allergies, diet choices, picky eaters or sticking within a budget, we all agree that getting a meal on our tables do not materialize without some sort of (mental) struggle.
If you happen to be a short order cook, then good on you. But for people like myself, raised by a young mom and occasionally fed Oreos for breakfast (to be fair - only on those crazy mornings), expanding your palate and mind to a menu of new and healthy alternatives can be quite the challenge.
Being Filipino, I grew up in a (food) culture that believes eating is enough. When your child is sick, best thing to do is to feed them. They may eat anything they want, for as long as they eat (“Basta’t kumain”). Regardless of what they stuff their faces with, the general school of thought is that filling their tummies will give them the strength they need to recover.
Admittedly, I have not the first clue what good eating habits are. Looking back at my food art journey in 2015, I just wanted my picky eater to enjoy her food. She was so difficult to feed; some nights, we would sit at the dinner table an extra hour just getting her to take a few bites. This led me to revert back to old-school Filipino mom-mode and didn’t think much when serving bacon or hot dogs as “protein”. I just needed her to finish her food, Goddammit!
It is funny how one photograph can portray you. Friends and family seem to think I know my way around the kitchen. Other moms with young children ask me what my secret is to getting my kids to eat healthy. Food art mommies are seen as as excellent cooks, with a refrigerator stocked with the healthiest options.
Personally, I do not cook. But, text me for the number of the nearest take-out restaurant and I’ve got those digits on speed-dial!
Becoming a mother to my first child at 19 was quite the challenge. School lunches were composed of pizza-pops, Costco corn dogs and frozen Blue Castle burgers (sometimes burned to perfection from leaving them in the oven 3 minutes too long). Trying to avoid any hassle, I needed something quick to prepare and the assurance my son would eat his lunch at school. I definitely did not have time to pander to his complaining about the cucumber slices and organic tofu nuggets in his lunch sack.
Now, what is the point of my babbling about these nasty food habits? Read on. I promise this has a legit purpose.
You see, I am a convert in progress.
It all started when my extra dark coffee stopped waking me up in the morning. I am a serial coffee drinker. I am a coffee addict. You know those memes about codependent moms on coffee? Well, that’s me, like I use a jumbo coffee mug that is probably meant for soup. Funnily enough, I don’t particularly enjoy the taste, but I cannot get enough of the jolt that comes from a warm (massive) cup of brown liquid. For a perfectionist mom with OCD, naps would be a waste of time. Sleep is for the weak.
The past 3 months, I was drinking more than two bowls (I mean, cups) of coffee a day. I would sleep a semi-interrupted 6 hours a night as I have done the past 14 years, but coffee just stopped cutting it. I began experiencing vertigo, plus my asthma and rhinitis were nearly incurable. To top off my lethargy, my middle child Alex’s temper tantrums grew to be intense, escalating to uncontrollable rage. It began to dawn on me that perhaps food was an added cause to this shit happening to us!
I am a firm believer that people come into our lives for a reason. One afternoon, I ran into an acquaintance and she talked about how her family adapted to eating right for your blood type some years ago and the positive changes it brought-on her life; how eating the wrong food clouded her judgment, depleted her energy, worsened her cold spells and coughs, and possibly heightened her postpartum depression after her third child. At that moment, I was completely convinced.
Then came the million-dollar question, “What blood type are you?” I gave her a blank stare, like an idiot. I had no clue. I was given a blood transfusion and lost nearly 6 liters of blood giving birth to my third child, but I had forgotten what my blood type was.
Mom brain 100, Nikki 0.
I dug through a mountain of medical files and found that my girls and I have blood type O+ while my hubby and son, have blood type A.
So, people with blood type A thrive on a plant-based diet, while those with Type O take after the cave man and thrive on meat and are mortal enemies to gluten and dairy. FML. The thought of having a meat-based diet made me want to verp (vomit burp). I am not a vegetarian, but meat is my least favorite food. I love fish, raw vegetables, beans, tofu, legumes and all fruits. Both Frank and Uli on the other hand, are a real man’s man. They live, dream and breathe red meat. My teenager isn’t completely convinced on the lifestyle change, but hubby, pushing 40 is definitely open to it.
Well, a shift in anything does not go without kinks and hurdles. I was struggling with motivating myself to kick-start a new lifestyle because I had no clue where to begin. There were so many factors involved; menu planning, catering to different palettes and budgeting- admit it, eating healthy is expensive! All I could think of was where I was going to find the energy, time and money to prepare a variety of dishes each day? I am a stay-at-home mom, yes. Not a short-order cook.
So, I stuffed my face with all things bad, shared two bottles of wine with Frank and got my thoughts in check. I decided to stop trying to reach perfection overnight; for us "bloody-O girls", I began by being more vigilant about including portion-controlled amounts of meat (sans pork) or organic, free-range chicken into our meals, then I would work on completely eliminating dairy from our diets. For the blood type A+ members, I needed to start being more creative when adding a wider, more interesting selection of vegetables into their dishes.
I also switched to rice milk in my coffee, forced myself to open my mind to enjoy the hearty organic, lean meat on my plate and loaded up on veggies, quinoa and rice (Pinoy type O’s can continue enjoying white rice! Woot!). Then, instead of feeding my girls cereal and instant oatmeal in the morning, I began serving them breakfast steak, and other Filipino favorites like adobo, arroz-ala-cubana made with a super simple homemade tomato sauce and marinated beef tapa which are dishes that taste better prepared in advance. Some may criticize that those are not the healthiest dishes, but I refuse to deprive ourselves from enjoying our food; baby steps - (Step 1: incorporate more meat and vegetables, eliminate dairy).
I was so busy researching, menu-planning and budgeting I only recently realized that around the 3rd day of removing dairy, I started gaining my energy back, coffee and I were friends again, and with the delicious milk alternatives available, my body did not crave dairy, wheat or bread. Health food specialty stores and local markets are a God send. Although, they do take more planning to visit and may burn a bit more into your pockets, it is all totally worth it!
I cannot believe I am actually saying this, but when you eat the right food, your body really does not crave for much so you end up eating less times in a day. After two weeks, I lost 5 pounds without even trying!
Alex is the biggest reason for our lifestyle change. She has always been on the emotional side, but her tantrums the past months would escalate to pure rage lasting up to 30 minutes at a time. My instinct was telling me that this was not normal. As her mother, I needed to try adjusting her diet in order to eliminate the possibility of food affecting her behavior. Luckily, she enjoys eating meat and fish. She has learned to appreciate soups and stews, and by simply removing dairy, I have noticed an incredible difference in her aura and behavior. Her emotional breakdowns decreased from 3-4 times a week to a single episode every two weeks with a reason I could pin point. I gently explained that we needed to limit sweets such as cupcakes, and candy had to be saved for special occasions because these foods were not helping her on her mission to jump “super high”. I am so grateful for her cooperation and resilience.
(Side Note: Simultaneously, we are seeking professional opinion regarding her behavior. I will save this for another blog post.)
It is funny how in the beginning, my challenge was to find a new way to create unique and cute designs for my kids’ food, not considering their nutritional value or effects of the ingredients used. I just wanted to fill their bodies with food. Now, my challenge is how to find and incorporate yummy gluten and dairy-free substitutes into our meals, while catering to our different blood types and palates, all whilst not breaking the family budget. Tough job!
I am so grateful for the abundance of information and resources available to us. Although Manila is newer to this way of eating and lifestyle, I have stumbled upon groups, friends, support systems and answers available almost instantaneously.
A significant change such as entire mind-shift and lifestyle change will definitely take time. It will not be overnight. And as cliché as it sounds, this journey will always be a work in progress. The moment I accepted this reality, the easier it was to begin. The secret, like any big project is tackling a single area one at a time. I am committed to living a better, happier, lighter life. I am ready to continue with our newest chapter.
And while I am still learning, I will be that woman in the grocery aisles, with a package in my hands reading the labels… But now you know, I am not a snoot. So look away, do not roll your eyes and please do not judge me.
Hey, I see you!