Jun 7, 2012

My Story

Eating an orange with a friend's chimpanzee at age two.
I grew up in West Africa as the child of missionaries. We lived in both Liberia and the Ivory Coast. I'm from a large family with four biological siblings, and my parents recently adopted number six from Liberia (they are still missionaries in Liberia). I loved my upbringing in Africa and my parents did a great job of balancing ministry with quality family time. Quality family time usually involved food, and it was always important to my parents to give us the best they could with their limited resources and available ingredients. From my dad's Sunday night waffles to my mom's Chinese cooking, food was always a labor of love. I remember my dad once even cut open a palm tree to harvest the palm heart for my mom to use in her Chinese cooking. (Click here to read my post about what it was like growing up as a missionary kid in Africa).

Because we were in Africa, a lot of junk food that is available in the US was either not available, or expensive and considered a special treat. About once a week we would have soda. I remember getting all excited along with my siblings, then after drinking my "treat", feeling lousy. My head and stomach hurt, and I had a generally cruddy feeling. The same was true for when I had ice-cream, cake (especially boxed cakes), and packaged cookies. So I learned to avoid these things. 

I wasn't even a teenager yet when I stopped drinking soda altogether, and would hardly ever have candy or other sugary treats. Later I learned that when we overwhelm our bodies with too much sugar at one time, the way I feel when I eat that much sugar is actually the way we all should feel. It's the body's way of telling us we've had enough, or to not eat that much again next time. But we don't all feel this way, which is why it is so easy for many to overeat sweets.
As a teenager I developed a love for cooking and baking. I not only took over the responsibility of making supper every night for my family, but also started my own business selling desserts to a small deli. I began reading cookbooks for fun. At home it was my goal to make food as good as that which you would eat at a nice restaurant. Since the nice restaurants we used to eat at in the US were not in the Ivory Coast, I would try to recreate elaborate meals for my family to enjoy there in Africa. Because we were living in the Ivory Coast the ingredients for all the recipes I wanted to make were not always available. I began to research the various purposes of each ingredient and found what substitutions could be made. 

At the same time I was learning more about good nutrition. Some of our missionary coworkers were really into healthy eating and I learned a lot through conversations with them and resources they'd point me to. It was a wonderful educational opportunity and because I was home schooled I completed my assignments fast and had many hours a day to have fun, learn, and experiment in the kitchen. 

Me shopping in the Ivory Coast at 16.
But, all this cooking and taste-testing resulted in me having difficulty exercising self-control when it came to food. I would taste-test and snitch at what I was cooking the whole time, so I was full by the time we actually sat down as a family to eat. Then I'd eat more. Though I never had bulimia or anorexia, I became mentally consumed with my weight. I would diet, gain the weight back, then do it all over again with the same 15-20 pounds. (Thankfully I never did anything too risky - my diets were actually fairly healthy. For example, I would only eat fresh fruits and vegetables.) I would often be depressed, especially during my heavier periods, and felt there would never be a time in my life when I could just eat and enjoy food, while being thin. I thought I would always struggle with my weight. It wasn't until I went to college that the busyness of life, and the fact that I was not living in a house where there was food around me all day (and not making my own meals) was I able to control what I ate more. By my senior year I was thinner than I'd been in high school and able to actually keep the weight off (by controlling portion sizes and not purchasing snacks). Still, I wondered how I'd fair one day as a stay at home wife and mother.

After college I moved back to Africa - Liberia, where my parents were now living - and worked at an orphanage in various positions for a three year period. I had the privilege of changing the menu for children at the orphanage to increase their nutrtion. Though I didn't know half of what I know now, I am glad I was able to make a difference in this small way. I was living in the capital city of Monrovia but had the opportunity to visit remote villages, some of the few places in the world that still eat an almost entirely traditional diet.

In January of 2010 my husband Kevin and I were married. We spent six more months working in Liberia then moved back to the United States.

The end of summer 2010 my husband and I began a year long missionary training program at The Master's Mission.  We lived in cabin in the mountains without electricity and with a wood stove for heat. This is the mission's strategy to help train the candidates in living in difficult environments overseas, in addition to various classes and special training. A lot of what we learned I've seen called preparedness. (To read more details about our time at the Master's Mission click here.)

A fellow candidate had the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon. The moment I opened it I knew I'd stumbled upon something revolutionary. Nourishing Traditions advocates a traditional foods diet. With my belief in a Creator God and the Bible, and my experience overseas, a traditional foods diet made sense on so many levels. God gave mankind food, and we are healthiest when we it it as close to the way we find it in nature as possible. I also remembered the West African native diet and throughout the book I found principles that confirmed the healthfulness of the indigenous foods they were eating and their unique methods of food preparation.

I was excited to be learning so much about healthy eating and right away began applying the principles I was learning to my cooking. I was doing fairly well with all this, when, a little over a year into our marriage, we found out we were going to be parents! I was so excited to be pregnant. I knew a lot of women put on tons of weight during pregnancy, but I would not be one of them!

At exactly six weeks I threw up for the first time of the pregnancy. Within a few weeks I was terribly sick most of the day, but especially through the night. I was puking multiple times a day and felt sick almost constantly with nausea and acid reflux. But the worst part was my ravenous appetite. I'd never experienced hunger like that when I was pregnant. It was so sharp and undeniable. I simply could not eat enough to be satisfied for more than one or two hours. I would go to sleep at night, then wake up within a couple of hours to the sound of my own stomach growling and being hungry again. I knew my body needed something for the baby, but I didn’t know what. One night I remember making a huge pot of potato soup (probably about ten servings). By morning I'd eaten it all and was still hungry for breakfast. All I wanted was to feel full for more than two hours. Needless to say I was rapidly gaining weight, but did not know what else to do. 

As I was very new to he whole traditional diet concept I know I was not making the wisest food choices. I am sure this was contributing to a lot of my sickness. Since we were living up in the mountains it was a thirty minute drive to get to the nearest grocery store.  

Me at my heaviest - about 200 lbs.
I'd heard it thrown around by various individuals that pregnant women need a lot of protein. I would try to eat an egg or two for breakfast, but since I felt so sick I didn't have the energy or the ideas to get more protein into my diet. Plus, every time I'd throw something up, I wouldn't want to eat it again for the rest of the time I had morning sickness. So peanut butter, and other similar things, worked once…then I couldn't stomach them any more. At 16 weeks the "morning" sickness finally went away. By five months of pregnancy I was at an appointment with my midwife and I broke down crying when I realized I had been gaining ten pounds a month and yet still felt hungry all the time (though not as bad as it had been), and I was still waking up in the night to eat. Not only was this frustrating, but it was bad for my health. Gaining too much weight puts a pregnant woman at risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and a huge baby.  It was then she suggested I go on a very high protein diet, 80 to 100 grams a day, a lot higher than what I was getting, and higher even than the 60 grams that is generally thought to be enough for a pregnant woman, and cut out most carbs, including whole grain breads and cereals. While I was trying to eat reasonably healthily, as most women who've been pregnant before can relate, I just wanted to eat anything that wouldn't make me feel sick. So while I was eating very few sweets, I was still eating tons of carbs in the form of whole wheat bread, cereal, rice, and potatoes.

While in popular terms my diet was high protein/low carb, it actually was more of a whole foods/paleo-ish  diet that eliminated refined carbohydrates. Not only did this limit the unhealthy starches I was eating, but it made room in my stomach for what I needed more: protein and vegetables.

Because I was so tired of being hungry and I did not want to gain any more weight, I was super serious about eating a lot of protein and no unhealthy refined carbs. The diet was not low fat, I should point out. I began drinking a whey protein fruit smoothie every morning (with full-fat regular or Greek yogurt), would eat a big salad with chicken, nuts and cheese on it for lunch, and for supper would have something like a baked chicken breast with lots of steamed veggies. For snacks I would eat cheese sticks or nuts. 
Photo Credit
It took about two weeks for my body to finally realize it was getting all the protein it needed to grow my baby, and then I started sleeping through the night and not even needing a snack between meals most of the time. Plus my acid reflux was significantly decreased. The difference was incredible. And while I poured olive oil all over my salad (I knew from Nourishing Traditions that good oils were very important and I needed to be making my own salad dressing), and slathered my veggies in butter, the pounds started melting off. (Too bad I didn't know about coconut oil yet!)

I was so encouraged and thankful that God had led me to this new way of eating. I was not only feeling full again and able to eat healthy, but I was getting a head start on losing all the weight I had gained.

Around this time I came into possession of a stationary bike. I had gotten very out of shape because I had felt sick so long, plus I had injured my foot earlier in the year, so even walking, with all the extra pounds I was carrying, was not possible. I started working out five to six days a week on the bike, first thing in the morning, while watching my favorite show (Bones) on Netflix. It was slow going at first, but by the time my baby was born I'd built up a lot of stamina, which was crucial in getting me through my 17-hour unmedicated labor! Working out also helped me build muscle and burn more calories every day.

Me at 199 lbs, 4 days before I gave birth
So in the interest of full disclosure these are the facts. When my pregnancy started I weighed 150 pounds. This was just five or so pounds away from my all-time, ideal weight (what I weighed when I got married). I was in very good shape physically. I am five feet six inches (exactly) tall. At the time I was wearing size eight jeans. I have what some have described as an athletic build. I had not weighed myself for years because I had become so obsessed with my weight in high school. So I was actually surprised when I found out I weighed "that" much. I didn't know 150 lbs looked that skinny on me! I had weighed myself at some point when I was fourteen years old and it was 127 lbs (first thing in the morning, no clothes). So I very unrealistically thought in the years to come that I should be closer to that weight (despite being an adult, being in better shape, growing a little taller, etc.). When I started eating more healthfully and eliminated all refined carbs, I weighed just about 200 lbs. 

Yes, I had gained 50 lbs. I became one of "those" women. Yet I have never had more sympathy than I do now for the struggles pregnant women face!

I didn't write it all down, so I'm a little fuzzy on the specifics, but I know I lost about five pounds the first week. In all I think I lost around fifteen pounds while I was pregnant because by the time my baby was born I weighed 199 lbs (in jeans/clothes).  So I began the diet at about six months of pregnancy and from that time till the time Caleb was born I lost some weight, then gained it back due to baby growth, but my clothes were fitting more loosely. After he was born I weighed myself and was 182. Caleb weighed 8 pounds, 14 ounces. My baby and all his gear weighed 17 pounds!

Believe it or not, I lost all the remaining 32 pounds in just 5 months. I am now 145 pounds. 

Despite me losing weight my baby has never suffered though he was exclusively breastfed until he was introduced to solids at 5 months. He has consistently been bigger than other babies his same age. 

How did I do it? Well, I know breastfeeding burns a lot of calories. And the first 12 pounds came off relatively easily (I wasn't eating any junk food, but I wasn't following the Nourishing Traditions diet either.) But the last 20 pounds have come off by simply by eating a traditional foods diet as best a I know how.

And it has not been just about me. I want my family to be as nourished as possible in this world we live that is full of chemical exposure and toxins. I can't do everything, but I can give them nutritious meals. I have had great success with this already with my little boy who is now one year old. I have fed him based on the wonderful information found in the book Super Nutrition for Babies. He is very healthy and big for his age. Everyone who sees him can't believe how young he is!

I started this recipe blog because I love too cook and I care about good nutrition. I want to share with my friends, and anyone else who wants to drop by, the delicious yet healthy recipes I am making for my family, and that there's a way to eat healthy on a limited budget. 

I also want others to understand that weight does not have to be a constant battle. You can get to the point where you are trim and healthy, and eating a lot of good food, without gaining weight. To me it makes sense that if we eat food the way God wants us to, weight gain won't have to be a constant struggle. But if we are filling up on processed man-made foods, then of course we will experience adverse effects. 

But it takes work, learning, and commitment to get to this point. It has taken me about two years of studying and implementing changes in my kitchen to get to the point where I feel fairly knowledgable on the topic of traditional foods. If you enjoy studying nutrition and have the time to, then changing the way you eat can be an enjoyable journey. But for those who don't have much free time and just want to know what to do, I hope this blog will be a helpful resource to you.

If you think this is too complicated, let me tell you it is so worth it! I feel great and am no longer in bondage to my weight. Plus I know my husband and son are getting wholesome meals and I am reducing our chances of getting serious illnesses in the future.

 If I can do it, you can do it too!


  1. Thank you for sharing this! I love Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price Foundation, but alas, we too have gotten away from eating as healthfully as we should. Thank you for the inspiration to get back on track!

  2. Thank you Melodie for sharing openly and being an inspiration. Thank you too for giving us a sample of your delicious whole wheat banana muffins! Looking forward to making them in a day or two. God Bless.

  3. I love your story! I had some questions....When you were pregnant, what kind of foods did you cut out? You mentioned that the midwife had you not eating things like whole wheat bread, and that you cut out refined carbohydrates...did you cut out all grains? Did you eat dairy? Also, after you had the baby, did you continue eating the same way? Or did you change up your diet after you had the baby? My fifth baby is now 5 weeks old, and I still have 35 pounds I want to lose, so I'm seeking advice. :)