Eating To Save Our Lives. An RE Guest Blog Story.
Eating To Save Our Lives. A Guest Blog Story.
submitted by Kelli Bailey
I developed a malignant breast tumor when I was 37 and pregnant with my fourth child. If that hadn’t happened, I would not be enjoying my incredible new role as a coach enabling other parents to raise their children as healthy, heart-centered, independent thinkers.
How it Began
Life was stressful enough for my husband Chris and me in the summer of 2007. We had just sold our home and closed my daycare business, most of our belongings were in storage and our family of five was living in a 600 square foot apartment while we searched for a new home. In the midst of all that, we were driving for eight hours both ways every two weeks so that I could continue receiving pregnancy care from my beloved obstetrician.
That was when I received the diagnosis. If I’d known then what I’ve learned since, I wouldn’t have accepted conventional treatment. But at that time, feeling very out of balance and fearful, I did what the doctors said to do and had surgery to remove the tumor from my breast during my second trimester.
Fast-forward to a year later: our daughter Sophie had been born perfectly healthy and we were adjusting to life in our new home. But I was feeling terrible – the weeks of daily visits to the oncology center, the radiation treatments and the side effects of Tamoxifen had left me completely drained. I knew that engagement is maybe the most important aspect to the process of learning in an unschooling family. I had always been a very engaged and active mom – the mom other people’s kids wanted to be around because I was such fun. But now…overweight, tired and depressed, I simply wasn’t able to engage in my own life. I went through the motions of keeping the kids fed and the house tidy but I felt that I was standing on the outside of my life looking in. I just couldn’t pull myself out of the fog.
Working it Out
Then a conversation with a friend had me wondering what had caused me to get sick. She asked if cancer ran in my family. I said no – then I started to ask myself: if my cancer isn’t genetic, how did I get it? I started asking relatives and looked several generations back into my family history, but found nothing. That led me to investigate what had happened to me – what I might have been exposed to that had made me sick – and the things that kept popping up were related to the kind of food I had been eating. Saturated fats, meat and dairy all seemed to be implicated.
I began to realize that while the aggressive cancer treatment and the emotional stress had taken the last of my reserves, I had already been severely depleted by a lifetime of poor dietary choices, inconsistent exercise and environmental toxins. But no more! Chris and I were getting closer to forty and my sickness had forced us to face our own mortality: we simply couldn’t carry on the way we had been. At the same time, Chris wanted to take preventative measures to avoid the cardiovascular disease that runs in his family, so with my newly-discovered information, we decided to change our diets.
We began to upgrade from the foods we had been eating, which tended to be centered on the chicken nuggets, pizzas, pasta, milkshakes and burgers that the kids preferred. In the beginning, we still had things like chicken nuggets but I made them from scratch. I continued to research the relationship between diet and health, and we removed gluten from our diets.
Immediately we noticed that we were sleeping better, and not eating dairy meant relief from digestive problems, which we hadn’t even realized we both were suffering from until it got better!
From that time on, we had an evolution of information, gradually learning more and upgrading our diet as we went along. The kids joined us to an extent, and while they still hung on to some of their favorites, we were having fun experimenting with smoothies, juices, and fruit-based puddings and ice creams as a way of getting them to eat more fruit and vegetables. I learned new ways to prepare fresh foods which made them more appealing to all of us.
It was a slow but steady process. Two years after making the initial changes, I had lost 30 pounds and the acne that I’d had all my life had disappeared. Chris has the body type that has trouble gaining weight, but even he looked so much better – he lost the swelling he didn’t know he had in his face, gaining more definition in his face and body. Both of us were relieved of the sinus problems we’d had since childhood.
Eating To Live
Below is a very versatile recipe which is easy to adjust for little taste buds. It makes a great dip for raw crudités and also a wonderful sauce for cooked rice or quinoa pasta (or any other gluten-free pasta). One of my sons likes it with brown rice and steamed vegetables. In the summer my family loves this sauce over spiralized zucchini noodles!
Perfect Cheezy Sauce or Dip:
1 cup soaked cashews
2 tbsp. white miso
1 c filtered water
Blend the above until smooth. If not using a high-powered blender, this could take a few minutes! After blending, add the following and blend again until smooth:
1/3-1/2 of a small diced yellow onion
1 diced red bell pepper
1 small or ½ large jalapeno pepper (remove and discard the seeds unless your family likes it HOT!)
2 chopped garlic cloves
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilli powder
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
Juice from half of a large lemon
My daughter created this yummy combination last summer. She loves the purple color!
Laurel’s Favorite Smoothie:
2 ripe bananas
1 c frozen blueberries
1 handful baby spinach leaves
1 c filtered water
It can be helpful to blend the spinach and water first before adding the other ingredients. This ensures there are no unappetizing floating green bits!
Another favorite is homemade non-dairy ice cream. We have an ice cream maker at home, and frequently in the summer we make ice creams with a coconut milk or nut base, but here is a quick and delicious ice cream which requires only a food processor.
Simply peel, slice and freeze ripe bananas (bananas are ripe when there is no green on the peel and the yellow skin is freckled all over). Put the frozen banana pieces in a food processor along with honey or cinnamon (or both!) Process until banana is smooth and creamy. Taste for sweetness, adding more honey or cinnamon to taste.
A Whole-Family Journey
As we became healthier we were better rested and we had more energy and patience with the kids. And we began to notice changes in them too – they were more calm and centered, more alive, focused and present, as we were. We were all enjoying our lives so much more!
We talked a lot to the kids about the adjustments we had made and the information we had gained. It was our oldest son Ashton, twelve years old at the time, who was the most inquisitive. He has a very analytical mind and was asking a lot of questions about how food affects the body. We talked about the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables and how hard it is for humans to digest animal products. He decided to give up dairy and gluten, and the result was incredible. I remember him running down the stairs to tell me how good he felt! He was shocked when, after eating some ice cream at a friend’s house, the runny nose that had disappeared for three months came back – immediately, and fiercely! All his life we’d been told that he had asthmatic allergies. He had always suffered chronic symptoms that meant carrying tissues and over-the-counter medications with him the whole time. We’d even gotten rid of our much-loved family pet. Ashton had been sleeping a lot too, and getting very frustrated about that because he didn’t like waking up with half the day gone. We had thought that, with the approach of puberty, he was developing new patterns of sleep.
As it turned out, it had nothing to do with puberty, just as his runny nose had nothing to do with the dog. When he eliminated certain foods from his diet, his overall quality of life improved, as ours had.
When Mom and Dad experience a change, kids notice, but when another child in the family sees such dramatic changes, then they really pay attention! Ashton became the family “expert” on food. One day his sister Laurel went out with my friend and her daughter to the yogurt shop and she was asking, “Does this have gluten or dairy?” My friend had to laugh because ‘gluten and dairy’ had become Laurel’s mantra. At the same time, she was happy to load up on the toppings containing food colorings, corn syrup and all kinds of additives, so long as there was no gluten or dairy in them!
That was okay because she was working through her own process of finding what foods work for her. The children have all been evolving, and it’s been fun to watch. My other son Hayden recently went to a sleepover without taking his own food with him. For the 24 hours he was there, he ate chicken burritos with cheese, Doritos and a whole lot of other foods that he doesn’t have at home. He was so irritable for the 48 hours after that sleepover! That experience – of the pain lasting twice as long as the pleasure – really helped him make the connection between what we eat and how we feel.
Raising Healthy, Heart-Centered Kids
Although Chris and I are hoping for a high quality of life in our elder years, we also believe that the way we feel in this moment is equally important. We want our kids to bounce out of bed every morning feeling in optimal health. We want them to be present enough to recognize what is going on in their bodies from the way they feel. We strive to help them see the patterns in the way their bodies respond to the foods they eat and to help them develop the intuition they need to care for themselves and experience the best health they can.
We don’t restrict what the kids eat. There are certain foods that we don’t keep in the house but if they ask for them, we buy them. We find that as time goes on, they ask for less and less of the foods which don’t support their well-being.
Our approach to food is no different than any other aspect of living and learning. We want our kids to feel respected, to be heard and to be in charge of their own bodies. It’s been wonderful to watch them grow and learn through their relationship with food. Since we’ve been unschooling, our lives have been flowing cheerfully and respectfully, with very few fights, tears or tantrums. And as our diets have evolved, we’ve never made an issue over what’s right or wrong: we talk about what feels good to us and about looking after our bodies. Now that Chris and I are eating a high-raw and vegan diet, the kids are curious to know what we eat and why we eat it, and their ways of eating have evolved along with ours.
Because we took awhile on our journey, upgrading and evolving as we learned, I’ve had the opportunity to read many books and websites which have been incredibly helpful to me. Some resources I highly recommend to anyone which have inspired me along the way are:
Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s books Disease-Proof Your Child and Super Immunity (www.drfuhrman.com)
Dr. Colin T. Campbell’s book The China Study (www.thechinastudy.com)
The documentary Raw for 30 Days (www.rawfor30days.com)
The documentary Forks Over Knives (www.forksoverknives.com)
The documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (www.fatsickandnearlydead.com)
Helping Other Parents
People began to notice the positive change in our family, and I found myself being asked a lot of questions. I observed that there was a real need for support among parents – people want what I have! I hadn’t realized how much parents struggle on so many different levels to feed their children in healthy ways without compromising their independence.
That is what I now help people with in my coaching business. Parents who are heart-centered and awakened want to know all of the little tricks and strategies to raise healthy, free-thinking children, and I can help them. I’ve helped parents who have made a dietary change or who want to make that change but don’t really know what that looks like in an unschooling family or how it can happen while living consensually together. I feel very privileged to be able to reach out to people, both in person and online, and to really be of service to parents who want to raise healthy, happy families.
Kelli Bailey is owner of GrowingHealthyKidsWithKelli.com, an online resource for families who want to upgrade to a healthier lifestyle with respect, grace and peace. She is also creator of “Why Do They Eat That Way?” an assessment tool used by parents to identify challenges specific to their child’s eating personality. Go to her site to grab your copy of this fun and insightful tool which will put your family on your way to a healthier and happier life!