No matter how healthy I think my relationship with food is, there are a few foods that I am still cautious about. They’re ones I was once told to eat more of, with the implication that they would lead to some good, healthy weight gain. Those stigmatized foods are ones I mostly enjoy in my diet now but still I tend to eat them in small amounts, less often and/or cautiously. William has gotten hooked on Trail Butter in the past months, and he’ll slurp down two or three packets after dinner when we have it in the house. I’ve watched each time with a little twinge of envy, not for the desire to eat the Trail Butter itself, but to be able to down heavy doses of nut butter without a thought for anything other than the taste. Nuts and nut butters are on my caution list along with seeds, bananas, eggs, avocados, and the one I’ve shared about before, meat.
It is interesting to me now, how stigma around a food is far less healthy than any food itself. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m taking a class right now about redefining nutrition and I really love the conversations we’ve been having about nutritionism, reductionism, culture, and the similarity between diets and religion. What I didn’t mention is that I’m actually at the beginning of a nutrition and integrative health graduate program, with a focus on clinical nutrition and herbal medicine. It’s exciting and scary to think about a future off in the distance which I’m sure will look far different than the one I now imagine. Perhaps the biggest theme I’ve learned in these past few years is that much joy can be found in learning to let go of control and live in the unknown. After spending the last several years exploring options and figuring out what is true to me, this step is another case of trusting what I feel to be true will lead in the right direction.
As I embark on the learning and forming of the next few years, I want to have my preliminary intentions dropped here in this space to guide and remind of the bigger picture, as I inevitably get bogged down in the details of shaping what’s to come:
– I set out on this journey because I want to serve others. Stepping away from teaching in my own classroom these last three years, I’ve particularly missed the ability to build deep relationships with students and see and guide their progress. I want to be able to see that I am helping make a difference again.
– I’ve experienced many obstacles in my own pathway to health and had to navigate through the noise to find what is true for me. I’ve spent more time with specialists in the medical field in this last year than ever before because I still haven’t been able to kick whatever has been making my feet hurt. In the process, I’ve realized why it has taken me so long to trust this career direction is the right one for me: In the past, I had many specialists tell me “eat this,” “gain this,” “add this,” “stop this,” “take this pill,” etc., without understanding my journey as a patient, as a really fucking scared human inside a body, feeling very much alone. In this last year, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I go into every new encounter with a doctor or specialist with my guard up, with a “you-aren’t-trustworthy-until-you-prove-yourself” attitude—because of how my physical recovery was handled in the past. And though I’ve had better experiences this last year, there are still some that were remarkably similar to those not-great ones in the past.
I get that behavior change is incredibly challenging and I want to always remember what it’s like to be “on the other side”, to be the patient, to understand that his or her experiences change the way the things I will say are taken. I want to remember that much of what has been said to me in helpfulness when I am a patient has been taken wrongly by my mind that is either “fixed in illness” or focused only on fixing the problem so I can maintain my current behavior symptom-free. I won’t be able to always understand another person’s point of view or get an interaction right all the time. But I’d like to stay mindful about a perspective and an experience different than my own and respond accordingly, in a way that is more personal and personable than “eat this,” “add this,” “do this,” etc.
– I chose a program with a focus on integrative health and a specialty in herbal medicine because I cannot believe that any aspect of health operates in a bubble. When I’m short-changing the healthy fats in my diet, beginning to restrict quantities, or having a day when I come home stressed and tired and eat mindlessly and then guiltily judge myself for having consumed “too much,” my actions and reactions are generally not about the foods themselves. I get that food, nutrition, diets, and health are more complex than the focus on only food itself, I want to learn more of how others experience that, and be able to bring that understanding into practice.
I’ve chosen to learn more of herbal medicine particularly, as the healing of many of my major ailments and imbalances these past few years has been facilitated through herbs, food, and mindfulness alone. My own experience with plants has been life-changing; and I’ve long felt a connection to plants as if they hold life’s answers. I simply cannot wait to know (and share) more. Of interest to me now is the intersection between herbal medicine and sports nutrition. I don’t know if this will be an area I focus on in the future, but there are currently quite a few herbs of interest among the athletic community, considered “superfoods” by many, to help the body adapt and recover from stress. I’m excited to delve into both the ancient traditional use of these plants as medicine, and the modern evidence-based science of continuing to use them now.
– I believe there is great power in the mind and the human experience and I think we as individuals have a lot of power as patients and as self-healers. We tend to see our health as something to fix, or to have another person tell us how to fix with an “easy” answer. Most of us don’t view our bodies as friends, as guides, as part of our health journeys that have just as much to say (and perhaps more wisely than our rational minds) in how we become the persons we envision ourselves to be. I want to help others find their friend in their body, and reconnect their rational self with the self that already knows what it needs. I’m working on this myself these days. In fact, I’m thinking it might be both the biggest ongoing challenge and achievement I’ve undertaken.
So now, back at the beginning, I recognize I’m much like everyone else, down in the trenches with my own set of challenges: The Recipe Redux theme this month is to try something new in this new year. My new discovery comes in the way of a snack that I started craving one day during a run in the wet, (wet, wet) Oregon rain. It’s got one of those in-small-amounts foods I mentioned above that up until now I hadn’t tried—Cashew Butter—slathered in little spoonfuls atop a roasted sweet potato (or microwave-baked for those of us who come in hungry with sweet potato now cravings), and a hefty pinch of za’atar sprinkled atop. Admittedly, I slid back into old patterns one day and tried it without the cashew butter because I was afraid of too many of those nuts (point in case, I’m a work in progress), but the sweet potato and za’atar were definitely missing their key ingredient. So if you try it, I suggest adding all the ingredients.
Roasted Sweet Potato with Cashew Butter + Za’atar, serves 1
1 medium sweet potato, scrubbed and stabbed with a knife a few times to vent
1-2 spoonsfuls cashew butter
Za’atar, to taste
- Roast the sweet potato on a square of foil in an oven, preheated to 400 degrees F, for about 40-50 minutes, or until soft all the way through. Alternatively, if in a hurry, it can be microwave-baked.
- Slice open the sweet potato, mash gently, and then spoon the desired amount of cashew butter atop, allowing it to sink in, soften, and melt slightly.
- Then add a pinch or two of za’atar, and serve!