Lia’s Nourish Evolution

My own NOURISH Evolution happened over the course of about a decade … although you could argue that we’re always evolving. Here’s what it looked like for me.

Blissfully Blind Prairie

Like everyone, I started out in Blissfully Blind Prairie. Throughout my childhood and in my teens, I was a meat and potatoes gal, detested all vegetables, and was especially partial to Doritos and Blizzards. It didn’t even cross my mind to pay attention to how they made me feel, or to wonder what they were doing to my body.

Pinnacles of Shouldangst

Things started to change my last year in high school. I put on weight and started to feel tired and sore all the time. So I followed the popular advice—to cut out fat—and officially entered the Pinnacles of Shouldangst.

I spent my 20s chasing the holy grail of fat-free existence, and constantly failing miserable. By day, I’d mostly eat what I felt I “should” be eating—salads with fat-free dressing, plain mashed potatoes, pretzels, egg white omelets, fat-free yogurt. I lived in Paris for a year and forced myself to eat plain green beans dipped in mustard every night for dinner. Mustard is fat free. But by 10 p.m., my cravings would get the best of me and I’d grab a pizza, or chicken wings, or a crepe, which would leave me feeling miserable and swamped with angst the next day. Over and over and over again. Should, angst, should, angst.

The one outlier in those pinnacles was the three months I lived in Greece. At first, I panicked that there were no fat-free options … anywhere. No Snackwells. No fat-free mayo. No light olive oil. No baked potato chips. I had no choice but to eat things like roast chicken and potatoes, greens drenched in olive oil, yogurt (FULL fat!) drizzled with honey. I was terrified. But I also, for the first time in my life, enjoyed food. I watched my friends—I watched a whole culture—eat with a deep sense of joy and even gratitude rather than fear, uncertainty and shame.

I couldn’t quite let go of my anxiety about the fat–not yet. But it did plant a seed.

The Hump

In the years after college, while I was living in New York, the soreness and stiffness and exhaustion kept getting worse and worse. I was shuffled from one doctor to another—all of whom looked at me like I was crazy—and given test after test and shot after shot. But no one could tell me what was wrong with me. I distinctly remember one morning, bawling in my bathroom, because my fingers were so stiff I couldn’t twist off the toothpaste cap. I felt hopeless and pathetic and didn’t know what to do.

Finally, in 1997, just after marrying Christopher and moving to San Francisco, a rheumatologist gave me a solid diagnosis … lupus. He told me I had to change the way I ate or I could die. The only problem was … I thought I was eating the way I should. Or at least aspiring to. I had even begun writing for some big food magazines I’d become so adept at putting low-fat spins on old Blissfully Blind favorites.

But after the lupus diagnosis and, a year later, a terrible cancer scare that ended in a hysterectomy, it was clear that the whole fat-free thing was not working. I was 29, I was 20 pounds overweight, and I’d been diagnosed with two serious illnesses. So I sought out writing assignments that would put me in touch with the experts who could answer my questions about how I really should be eating to take care of my body and to heal.

Thankfully, it was at a time when groundbreaking, 25-year studies on nutrition with tens of thousands of subjects were coming to fruition. And what were they all finding? Across the board, every single one showed that the best way to keep weight off, lower your risk of just about every disease in the book and have more energy and vitality was to eat mostly vegetables, cooked in healthy oil, rounded out by whole grains and well-chosen protein. That was radical in the late 1990s.

Even more shocking was that scientist upon scientist were telling me that it wasn’t like a single nutrient in each vegetable was what made that vegetable “healthy,” it was the way everything fit together—the cocktail of nutrients in each vegetable, in each whole grain … even in a whole meal.

It made me think of Greece. By the time the new Millennium rolled around, I had a clear picture of what the Land of NOURISH looked like. And my memories of Greece gave me an emotional snapshot of how it felt.

Peaks and Valleys of Practice

There was just one little glitch … I still hated vegetables.

Christopher and I used to go to a salad place near where we lived in San Francisco where you could choose which toppings you wanted and they’d toss it all together in a bowl with the dressing. I’d make them wipe out the bowl if Christopher got beets before me. Couldn’t stand them. Yet I knew I couldn’t get to the Land of NOURISH without vegetables, and I knew I didn’t want to live in the Pinnacles of Shouldangst.

So I opened myself up to trying new things.

A turning point for me was buying Fresh From the Farmers’ Market, by Janet Fletcher. A cookbook entirely devoted to vegetables. I would carry it with me on our new adventures at the weekend farmers’ market and feel emboldened enough to buy a couple of things I was unfamiliar with.

One day, a farmer held out a pea pod to me. “Try it,” he said. I grimaced. Peas were an especially detested vegetable of mine. But he was so earnest, and it looked so GREEN. I tried it. And I loved it. I bought a whole pound. From there, I expanded quickly into asparagus, bitter greens and … BEETS. I remember calling Christopher on a business trip one night from the kitchen and screeching, “I just made a beet and asparagus salad! ME!”

In 2000, Christopher and I packed up everything and took an extended road trip to Costa Rica. The Peaks and Valleys of Practice continued, and during the three months we lived in Costa Rica I was blessed with the time to experiment with different ways of cooking vegetables. I discovered that:

  • I really like vegetables roasted at high heat with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
  • I really like grilled veggies and seared veggies, so they get all caramelized
  • I really like raw veggies drizzled with good olive oil and bit of flake sea salt

When we got back and I was cooking more with vegetables from the farmers’ market—and eventually ones I grew myself—I started noticing how much better I felt eating vegetables fresh from the source. The whole experience of eating them was better, but they simply tasted better, too. They were bred for flavor and eye appeal, not so they could travel halfway around the world.

I also became more aware of different farming practices and their affect on the environment—and my health–and I wanted to “vote with my fork,” so to speak. All that I’d gone through left me with a deep desire to care for my body better than I had in my younger years.

The Land of NOURISH

As my peaks and valleys leveled out and my default became sautéed kale instead of pepperoni pizza, I lost those 20 pounds without ever feeling deprived, and the blood tests and symptoms that had indicated lupus went back to normal. My lupus diagnosis was officially changed to fibromyalgia.

And then … I became a mom. And I’ll admit, I had to go back to the Peaks and Valleys of Practice for a while to figure out ways to make real food work in a tighter schedule with less time of my own. But adopting Noemi also made everything matter MORE. There was no way I was going back to the Pinnacles of Shouldangst. I wanted my daughter growing up in the Land of NOURISH.

This journey is what led me to create NOURISH Network, to help others forge ahead on their own evolutions. If you haven’t already, I would love for you to sign up for my weekly inspiration and recipe. Remember … you’re not stuck forever in Blissfully Blind Prairie or the Pinnacles of Shouldangst or The Hump or the Peaks and Valleys of Practice. You’re on a NOURISH Evolution. I’d love the privilege of being on it with you.