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BLOG-Down to the Bone

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This morning, I’ve been reading an article on body image. An expert in the article counsels me as a mom to engage in zero talk about my children’s body weight, zero talk about my own weight, and zero talk about the weight of others. I’m not sure how I am doing on the score of promoting a positive body image in my kids, but frankly that expert’s well-intended advise doesn’t quite suit. I’m motivated to do right and well by my children but, considering our family’s present circumstances, introspection on the subject of body health seems the earnest order of day.

scaleAt our house, talk about body weight is not zero. The thing is, I have thyroid disease. It’s a disease of the endocrine system—the collection of glands in our bodies that regulate hormones—and directly related to metabolism. I have a type of hypothyroidism which means my thyroid underproduces its hormones and, as a result, lowers my metabolic rate. I have less room for error in my diet than people with healthy endocrine systems. Disturbingly, endocrine disease is on the rise, and I have far too much company. Disorders such as diabetes and thyroid disease are shortening our lives and, through their whole body impact, significantly impacting our quality of life.

You might wonder how bad it can be. Before I was diagnosed, I felt like a hypochondriac with a crazy range of symptoms including joint pain, hair loss, forgetfulness, anxiety, bloating, a depressingly narrowing range of foods that I could eat without negative consequence, and most tragically a miscarriage. Since I was diagnosed, my condition has been manageable, but I have to remain hypervigilant. I take medication every day and, because there is no at-home blood test offered for thyroid disease like there is for diabetes, I weigh myself every day as a way to monitor my metabolism. If I start feeling cold, hungry, or edgy and my weight climbs sharply, I take this change as a sign that my metabolism is crashing and get myself into the clinic ASAP for a blood test and modified medication schedule.

Lately, that vigilance has not been quite enough. I’ve had a difficult three months of severe joint pain. I’m still sorting out what is going on, but now my bones are involved, a possible consequence of the medication and a confirmed deficit in Vitamin D.

I would not wish my present health on anyone and certainly not my children. How I developed thyroid disease is a complicated story involving a genetic predisposition and several environmental factors. The main factor that I control is the foods that I choose to eat. To give our kids the skills, the awareness, and the resourcefulness to be healthy eaters, we cook with them regularly. We grow food in our home gardens and visit our community farms. We discuss our children’s favorite foods and explain how their favs like olives, spinach, blueberry, and pumpkin are anytime choices. We also explain why we partake starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes with moderation.

raw foods, good and better

More recently, we’ve begun to consider one aspect of our diet with greater scrutiny: added sugar. In June, I went to see a documentary at the Little Art Theater called Fed Up. The film is a cautionary tale about unchecked sugar consumption in the American diet. When I went to the movie, I took my daughter with me. I was sensible enough to know that she would be confused by the film. Its clear message runs counter to the gleefully indulgent signals she’s fed from a well-established food industry that rarely targets her age group without adding a sizable scoop of sugar. I figured going in that she would be able to take in the movie’s message as a precaution and not a direct criticism of her own diet. My seven year old daughter doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth so our conversations on the subject of added sugar have been relatively easy. Even so, they are imperfect. My weight does come up, something I am obviously concerned about, but I’m more concerned with the inflammation and systemic stress that I wish to alleviate in myself and guide her to avoid.

Even before seeing the movie Fed Up, my husband and I have been forward about talking to our children about personal health and specific dangers to it. We are open about the family’s medical history, present our own missteps, and encourage habits we see as essential to robust health over a long lifetime. Specifically, we counsel our kids “Don’t smoke, period” and “Please, dear heaven, keep your daily sugar intake modest.” Sugar is the clear and present danger. After watching Fed Up this summer, I took a long look at my diet and was taken aback by my sugar intake. I’ve never been a soda drinker, and I don’t eat hyper processed foods. Still, I found that—far too easily—I regularly exceeded the World Health Organization’s recommended limit of 25 grams (6 teaspoons) a day. I don’t eat; I treat. That bad habit has to change.

olive womangnocchi man

I feel down to my bones that here is a change many should make. My sense of urgency on rejiggering the standard American diet is intense. Yes, I was never a soda drinker, but I drank other sugary drinks for decades oblivious to the consequence. I’d eat store-bought yogurt—marketed as health food but loaded with added sugar—as a regular snack. I used to joke about how I could be full from dinner and still have this pocket in my stomach reserved for dessert. Now I know that’s no joke. My body reacts to fat and fiber to let me know that I am satisfied; the body’s signals get crossed when I eat sugar, however. We can eat sweets to our generous heart’s content and circumvent the sober controls of our digestive system past the point of danger.

I realize change is not easy. As a culture, we’ve bonded to our sugary drinks like we’ve bonded to our cars. We’ve got to break this terrible dependency and synthesize a better, more sustainable way to project our identity and feed our souls. I reflect back to the exuberant soda commercials of my youth and think “I’d like to teach the world to sing” a different tune.

sleeping children

When I consider my body, I’m not so much worried about the outside as the inside. My body changed when I had my babies. I embrace my baby belly with joy and reverence because of the two beautiful children it gave me. I work hard, though, on reeling my health back in. I want to enjoy these two people for a good many decades…let’s say, a good healthy five decades, at least. They sweeten the pot as no other sweetener can.


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