Photo by Robert S. Donovan
Huge thanks to Emilia for sharing her story. I think she brings a very important message about the value of nutrition and the importance of trying different things until you find the diet that works best for you.
While Emilia found that more fat was necessary for her optimal health (as did I), keep in mind that some people thrive best on a diet with less fat. Humans vary substantially in their genetic background, so you can’t assume that what works for someone else will work for you. Experimenting with your healthstyle is the only way to figure it out.
Emilia has a certification in holistic nutrition from Bauman College and has worked in community health education.
How Butter and Real Food Saved My Health
Hello Summer Tomato Readers,
My name is Emilia and I’m hugely honoured to be guest posting on Summer Tomato. I have been a big fan of Summer Tomato since the beginning and I love Darya’s clear explanations and refusal to accept cliche. Most of all though I love her ‘healthstyle’ message and I wish I’d found a resource like Summer Tomato, back when I began dieting.
My unhealthy experience with dieting came after University when I decided I wanted to lose a few vanity pounds. I looked to various women’s magazines for guidance, and soon came up with a diet that was low in calories and very low in fat. It centered around salad without dressing, fruit, fat-free yogurt and muffins, scrambled egg whites and a small amount of seeds and fish. I lost weight quickly and was thrilled.
The problem was that not only did I lose weight, but I also developed other problems. These included extreme anxiety, irrational behavior if food was late and incredibly low immunity. People who knew me joked that I got sick an awful lot for the healthiest eater they knew. The worst symptom however was that my hormones became completely off balance. To put it bluntly, I barely menstruated for four years.
During this time I sought lots of medical advice about the problem. It was assumed to be a temporary result of my weight loss. After that many doctors made the diagnosis of polycystic ovaries, despite the fact that none were evident in scans. Since I wasn’t (quite) technically underweight, lifestyle factors were barely considered. The only advice some doctors gave me was to gain weight, exercise less or eat more protein. I did all of these dutifully, without result.
The transformational moment came after Christmas one year. I spend Christmas with my husband’s family who eat a very traditional British diet: fresh meat from local farms and homegrown vegetables. Everything is cooked in copious amounts of butter, but served in small portions. The only consistent time my cycles would re-start was after Christmas, despite the fact that my weight and exercise habits didn’t change. Since I was eating meat at home regularly by then (albeit grilled chicken breasts), I began to wonder if there was something unique about eating a diet high in both saturated fat and protein that helped me.
I began to study Nourishing Traditions and the Paleo diet, and started to (very loosely) incorporate some of the principles. I chose to first focus on including more saturated fat in my diet: butter, full fat milk and yogurt, whole eggs and fattier cuts of meat. I also refused to see fat as a negotiable, and stopped skimping on butter in my cooking so I could have a cookie later.
Second, I started to ensure I was getting some good protein at every meal. Meat or fish once per day, plenty of nuts, and legumes instead of bread. I also began including more exceptionally nutritious sources of protein like oily fish of all varieties, as well as organ meats like liver and kidney (yes, really!).
Third, I switched my attitude toward food. Instead of trying to eat more food for fewer calories, I started trying to eat moderate amounts of highly nutritious and enjoyable food. Buying smaller portions of vegetables, but getting them from the farmers market. Having the occasional delicious ice cream, instead of a daily frozen yogurt. Pretty much entirely cutting out refined flours, artificial additives and other non-foods. It was, I believe, this third change that was the most important. It was also the hardest since it defies our current societal instruction to seek out the most food or pleasure, for the least calories or money.
After I started eating this way, the improvements to my health were virtually immediate. My anxiety subsided, my moods normalised. Within two months my hormones began to re-stabilize. I am certain the dietary changes were pivotal because any time I reverted to eating less fat and protein, or relying on refined carbohydrates, my problems returned.
It took time to change my eating habits permanently—starting to eat butter can be as hard as stopping—but I am now a devoted and healthy convert. My current healthstyle is enjoyable, sustaining, affordable and supportive of my fertility. It it is also rather like Darya’s weight maintenance recommendations: high in healthy fats served with vegetables, and rich in legumes and good sources of protein; focusing on quality over quantity and resisting redundant ideas about ‘healthy’ packaged foods. Which brings me full circle to my first point.
For me, the impression many doctors gave that my fertility had everything to do with my weight, calorie intake and genetics turned out be far from the truth. I believe that for many people fertility has everything to do with nutrient intake. I am therefore so pleased there are rational websites like Summer Tomato that can help spread the message.
Thanks so much for allowing me to tell my story Darya!
How has eating real food helped your health?