My Journey into Natural Living and Better Health

I talk about real food and natural living occasionally. I even wrote an eBook to help you create real food meals in just 20 minutes, but I’ve never told you why we made the switch to a more natural life style. Now that we’ve begun our Grace for the Pregnant Mom series, I feel like I need to back up and share my journey, my perspective, because much of our series will be filled with natural pregnancy help. I think you need to know where I’m coming from and why.

So can I share my story with you? Do you mind? It will be a little longer than the average post, but I didn’t want to split the story up for fear you’d miss one part or the other.

What We Were Doing

Mark and I are both milk lovers. When we first got married, we would easily go through a gallon of store bought milk a week. We even had the frequent shopper’s punch card. After you buy X gallons of milk, you get a gallon of milk free. There were many nights that we would share a glass of milk before bedtime. We were both elated that we had married someone with equal passion for consuming milk!

Oh, and cheese? We devoured cheese. Like the typical American, we ate it on our hamburgers, we added it to every casserole, and the best snack consisted of crackers and slices of (fake) cheese quartered into just the right size for a sandwich. Think about it? How often is cheese a part of your diet? Velveeta anyone?

To add to it, for dinner, we were eating a lot of boxed hamburger helper and macaroni and cheese, freezer dinners, and eating mostly Kraft products because I thought they had good recipes on their website. Our breakfast, if we even ate any, consisted of boxed cereal (Lucky Charms for me and Raisin Bran for Mark), or oatmeal packets you just add water to and stick in the microwave. Our lunches were mostly deli meat (whatever was on sale) and a slice of cheese with some mayonnaise slathered on. Our side item was usually potato chips. Our snacks were fruit roll ups, peanut butter crackers, cheez-its, and candy cakes. To drink, we always had a gallon of sweet tea and canned sodas in the refrigerator.

Without a doubt, we were consuming the SAD (Standard American Diet) diet with much fervor!

We ate (and drank) this way the entire first year of our marriage. During this year, we were befriended by a couple who told us that a lot of people had allergies to conventional milk, and that when they came off conventional dairy they stopped having sinus problems. We also heard them say that we should ride out sicknesses and let our bodies do what they were created to do. Hmph! They’re crazy.

At least we thought they were for a very long time.

If they said anything else, I didn’t hear them. I was too concerned that they might tell me I needed to give up my nightly  milk date with my husband because it was bad for me. Didn’t they see all the “Got Milk?” commercials? All I knew was they ate expensive food and there was no way we could ever afford it.

One day I got bored at work, and probably had a terrible stomachache from the double cheeseburger meal I had consumed on my lunch break,  and decided to do a little research on our friends wonky theories. I quickly discovered they weren’t the only ones who were crazy. There are others out there just like them!

Around this time we were quickly approaching cold and flu season, which was always miserable for Mark and me. We fought one sinus infection after the other and were rarely without a cold! Our friends? They weren’t sick; we began to wonder if they (along with the other Internet weirdos) might be on to something. However, we continued to buy over the counter cold and flu medicine and drank our orange juice faithfully. Needless to say, we never truly got better and we still got sick, very sick and we wondered if our diet had anything to do with it.

What Stopped Us in Our Tracks

In the fall of 2008, I found myself looking at yet another doctor who could do nothing but shake his head and offer more medicine. I didn’t want medicine. I wanted answers, but no one had any. I went to regular doctors, internal medicine doctors, and specialists. Yet all I got was another prescription for another set of pills. It was disappointing to say the least, and so utterly expensive it only made me angry!

For years I battled migraines, and now I was having major digestive issues. I was sick, tired, and in pain but no one could tell me why. I finally had enough when the only answer I received was to fill a $100 bottle of pills (that would only make it through four migraines) and a colonoscopy for more testing (which my insurance would not cover).

No thank you! I simply could not afford this…literally. I couldn’t. My husband was in grad school getting a stipend for meals as a Graduate Assistant, and I was barely making enough at my job to cover the necessary bills. I had to find another way.

And so began my journey into natural living and a new way of life.

We Were Forced to Change Our Lifestyle

In the end, we began to listen to our “healthy friends.” I emailed my friend with great fervor, and I read every health food blogger out there. I finally settled on two of my favorites with whom I still refer to often when I have a question – Passionate Homemaking and Keeper of the Home.

This, dear readers, is why we started this path of healthy, natural living.

I was sick – very sick.
We were broke – very broke.

But above all, God changed our hearts. He used our friends to teach us the basics of how our bodies work and how it related to food. We decided to give this way of life a trial run. If it didn’t work, we’d pray for God to provide the finances for medical treatment. However, we had a feeling that a new lifestyle and way of eating might just be the change we needed.

Our First Steps into Natural Living

Changing the way we thought about food and how it related to our health was not a quick (or easy) process. Yet taking control of our health consisted of learning to make better lifestyle choices and letting go of what we had always done.

During my time of intensive research, I read about how we are a microwave society and we are prone to comfort and ease. I formulated through my reading that it was sort of like a slow fade that we as a society are involved in when it comes to our health (and various other things, but we’ll stick to health for today).

One generation made one small sacrifice.
The next generation made another small sacrifice.
Then, the next another small sacrifice.

Eventually, this slow fade had me sitting square in front of a husband who would most likely struggle with being overweight for the rest of his life, along with me who would forever have stomach issues and migraines.

… or so we thought!

I was not satisfied with sitting by and watching this happen. I’m not an accept the status quo sort of person (drove my mama nuts growing up). I knew that there had to be answers. No more sacrificing our health and vitality because we’re not willing to let go of what we’ve always done.

The Experiment

So Mark and I started small. Someone mentioned they didn’t use paper towels for two reasons:

1) To save money
2) To help preserve the environment

I realized that paper towels would most likely be one of the easiest, but hardest things that we would have to try. No, it’s not food. No, it doesn’t directly relate to our health, but it was an important step for my family toward natural living.

I informed Mark that we were going to try an experiment of going without paper towels. He looked at me like I was crazy. I urged him to try it for a month. He agreed to my shenanigans completely convinced that this was not going to go well.

Two weeks after we eliminated paper towels and had been using regular towels and rags, Mark said, “When are we going to start the paper towel experiment?”

I looked at him smiled and said, “Dear, we’ve been doing it for two weeks now.”

Needless to say, we’ve not used paper towels in our home on a regular basis since.

What does this experiment have to do with health?

It’s simple.

  • We proved to ourselves that just because paper towels were what we had always known and used, they weren’t the only answer.
  • We also learned that we were capable of making small changes.
  • We learned that we didn’t die from trying.
  • We learned that we like the feel of soft napkins at dinner instead of scratchy paper towels.

These same lessons can be applied to health and nutrition.

  • Just because we’ve never made our bread from scratch doesn’t mean we can’t do it.
  • Just because we’ve never met the farmer who grows our food doesn’t mean we can’t ever meet them.
  • Just because boxed potatoes are what we grew up on doesn’t mean we can’t learn to make wonderful, fresh mashed potatoes.
  • Just because I don’t drink half my body weight in ounces of water now doesn’t mean I never will.

Because of the society that we live in, we are so prone to believe the lies that it takes too much time and effort to change our diet or even way of life. We’re too busy to make our food from scratch is one of the lies I believed. Truth is it takes no less time for me to put together a batch of pancakes from scratch than it does to throw the ingredients together from the box. Think about it.

What lies are you believing when it comes to better health?

So we came to a cross road where we had to make a decision. Make a change or keep doing what we’d always done in hopes of obtaining a different result. We chose to start with paper towels (a little unconventional, I realize). We succeeded at eliminating paper towels within a few short weeks. It’s been almost a three years since we gave up paper towels for regular everyday use. We haven’t missed them for a single day (okay, that’s not entirely true…potty training would have been nice to have them).

Baby steps are the best way to healthy living.

We’re not perfect at this whole natural living thing, but we’ve added one new healthy habit at a time. We intentionally seek to steward our health while resting fully in God’s grace.

Health can easily become an idol. Sometimes we still eat boxed macaroni and cheese. But when I have the time and energy, I make homemade macaroni and cheese because it’s nutritionally better for me and far superior in taste.

We didn’t make all the changes at once, and we haven’t made all the changes we’d like. But each day, each week we grow in our stewardship of our health. We seek to help our children grow in making healthy choices, and we’re grateful the Lord opened our eyes to what He has provided for us nutritionally in order to build our bodies up for His glory!

So that’s our story into natural living! Thanks for hanging with me!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Have you made the switch to real, whole foods? What’s holding you back? How can I encourage you in your journey?

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  1. Loved this! So neet to hear your story. We are all on a journey and continuing to grow and change. I grew up with a mom who cooked from scratch, made a variety of foods – ate lentils, beans, lots of fruits and veggies. So I had a decent start. Sure she bought Crisco and that’s something that I no longer use in my house but we are all learning. My husband, on the other hand, came from a family who ate (and still does) the SAD. When we met he hardly liked anything. Thankfully, his palette has changed and he eats a wide variety of wholesome foods. But food is still something he struggles with, especially as he has several pounds he needs to lose. But baby steps – eventually it will happen!

    1. We both came from a SAD background. Yes we had home cooked meals, but … yea. It just wasn’t right. haha! And like our families, we really didn’t know any better. It’s just the way it’s done in the south!

  2. Do you follow a certain diet plan? We have been considering following a paleo diet for our family which cuts out milk and cheese and gluten, but I’m just not sure how my kids (or me for that matter) will like it. My kids drink so much milk, and I do buy organic, but I’m not so excited about the things I have been learning about it lately.

    1. Sabrina, I don’t follow a certain diet plan. We have done so much research and formulated our opinions based on what we would consider “common sense health.” We’ve looked into Paleo, Trim Healthy Diet, and more. But we always come back to the basics – real, whole food that looks like God intended for it to look. Find those foods and eat them all you want! 🙂

      When I’ve looked at following any certain “way of eating” I just found it simply became an idol for us. Oh no, can’t have that. Nope can’t mix those two things together. It was stressful, and didn’t work for us.

      Now, I can’t say we’ll never follow a diet plan. It’s part of the journey we are on that we are constantly learning! I think it’s all about seeking to become a better steward of your health and then taking it to the Lord in faith asking Him to reveal any areas we need to change.

      But our rule of thumb for our diet is to eat and drink that which is most closely related to how the good Lord made it and do all things in moderation. This works for us. Very cool that you’re excited about what you’re learning! That’s always a bonus to making the necessary lifestyle changes!

  3. I am definitely at the stage of learning about whole foods and wanting to get there. But we are struggling budget wise to be able to afford more whole food things. We definitely do enjoy made from scratch anything better than the box version. Why does it have to be so expensive to eat whole foods and healthfully???

    1. There are things that are expensive and things that aren’t. The key is learning what is most important for your family, making them fit the budget, and then maybe “settling” in other areas that aren’t as important. For example, for us: we are non-negotiable on our milk, which is raw straight from the cow, our beef, and chicken. Those three things are our non-negotiables. This may mean that we don’t buy all organic produce or sprouted bread. BUT we add in what we can when we can. Just determine what your non-negotiables are and go from there. We saw an increase in our grocery budget, but a MAJOR decrease in our medical budget (not just the stuff I shared). We are rarely sick (Sam only when he’s teething) so we don’t have doctor bills of any sort, and we’re not pouring money down the drain on OTC meds. We don’t miss work for sickness either. So there is an element of perspective to it that comes with seeing the benefits over time. Not easy to see when you’re just starting out! It’s overwhelming at the beginning and remembering that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing is key. Make changes as you can. That’s where grace comes in! 🙂

      1. Leigh Ann,
        I’ve been trying to get raw milk but am having a hard time! Raw cheese I can find, and what do you know- it lasts longer in the fridge than pasteurized cheese. It’s amazing the “advances” have regressed our health. I’m so glad to have found your post- I slowly became SAD esque after marrying my husband, and after 4 years of increasing acne and gut issues, I have been slowly reversing back to my old diet with great results- way less acne and discomfort. God has put some friends in our lives who have really opened up my husband’s mind to it too! Can’t wait to read more of your blog!

  4. Love this. My journey has been a lot of baby steps until I was diagnosed with food allergies – then I had to go much more drastically, at least for me, but trying to catch up my boys through baby steps. It’s not easy, but well worth it, and far more possible than what people believe!

  5. I have been struggling with Food for a while and it seems like I just can’t get enough. So, recently trying to follow diets and stuff and I think this list is exactly what I am looking for. When I feel hungry I drink water and divert my attention. Thank you Leigh.

  6. Hey, great share….

    I completely agree with you that living naturally is so rejuvenating and health-affirming. I really loved your article as it is pretty informative and interesting. Your post is definitely worth sharing.

    Keep sharing more….

  7. Just found this, so hope you can still reply (if you want after this long comment!) We just started our healthy living journey, but I think I skipped the baby steps. I feel I may be making it an idol, but then I think why are we treating our bodies like this. And I also thought how are we supposed to heal our bodies if we keep eating like this? With 2 older kids who are used to getting junk food almost anywhere they go (I have a baby too who doesn’t get all that junk food), how will they learn that those foods are what is making them sick? And they have definitely gotten sick after changing our diet, but it seems as though they are willing to be sick in order to have the “good stuff”. And we are involved in so much (i.e. youth group, other church functions, camps, parties at school, visits to family) how can we educate others, but at the same time be thankful for the food they offer? My kids had VBS and camp this summer, and I was outraged by the sweets they offered them Every. Single. Meal. The biggest issue is my aunt who does’t care what she feeds my girls. She has limited income and buys processed food because that’s all she can afford. But she says it tastes good too. From what I can tell, she is hardly sick, but then again, she didn’t have much of this processed food growing up. Then, the grandparents get mad at me for not letting the kids be kids and eat tons of junk food. And “a little won’t hurt.” And if they want a quick meal, we are off to fast food. I can’t make them understand and yet they get mad when I don’t want to eat that stuff. It’s really hard to find balance when everyone else (including God-fearing church members) begs you to eat their food or think you should be grateful of anything offered. The husband thinks its disrespectful to turn down food of any kind and kids don’t turn anything they want, but I try to if its sugary or I know it will make me bloated. The hubby needs to lose weight, but even our real food diet hasn’t changed him. What I don’t understand in the church is how people think sickness just happens, especially cancer. Others say, as long as I pray over my food (obviously not eating cake for a meal), then God will protect me. “And we all have to die someday”. It’s as though no one makes a connection and everyone continues to eat what they want and more people get sick.
    Anyway, sorry for the rant. I know God is in control and I can’t change everyone. I don’t want it to be an idol either, but I want others to understand so much!!! It’s a new passion!! I need to take more baby steps instead of one gigantic step, and just not sure how to best accomplish this while (I feel) everyone is questioning me. It’s been a financial struggle as well and we get some food from WIC. Much of that includes conventional milk but I try my best to use it only for cooking and baking. We are fortunate to have our own milk cow and raise our own beef. As far as the rest of our meat, I try to at least go antibiotic/hormone/ GMO free. Cheese is definitely conventional as it is way expensive. Then I try to hit up local farmers’ markets for frutis and veggies!!
    Thanks for your posts. One of these days, I’ll be able to tell of my conversion to real food..the way God intended it to be!!

    1. I can totally understand the frustrations and desires to educate others. I’ve been on this journey for a while now, and most of our family still thinks we’re a bit crazy. But I’m also seeing them make little changes here and there. I’ve learned my humble example is the best teacher. We can’t change others. We can’t even change ourselves. That’s the Lord’s work. Be faithful and obedient through prayer for the health of you and yours. Let the naysayers roll off your back, turning the other cheek if necessary. Be gentle and kind. Be loving. And pray without ceasing for how to respond when difficult situations arise. He won’t let you down. 🙂