Transitioning to Real Food: Judy's Story

Some people are lucky to have grown up with natural, wholesome food. The rest of us have had to transition from fast food - or what we were told was good - to real food. Every transition story is a little different.

Judy from the Judy Tsafrir M.D. blog has kindly shared her story with us.
What did you eat growing up?

My mother was a skilled and creative cook and way ahead of her time. Both my parents were from Germany, and we are Jewish, so there was a mixture of German and Jewish cuisine. Much that was homemade and fresh. My mother liked to shop daily and liked experimenting with recipes.

My mother studied Chinese cooking in the 60’s with a wonderful Chinese restaurateur in Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania, Anna Kao, at a time when eating “ethnic food” was really still very, very uncommon. She made absolutely wonderful, unusual dishes that she learned from Anna Kao.

There was actually an over focus on food and eating in my family. It would qualify as eating disordered. Everything revolved around food, procuring, preparing, eating.

My father was crazy about fine dining in restaurants. He just loved it. We went to all sorts of places and he did not mind spending large amounts of money on meals in restaurants. It drove my mother crazy. She thought it was very wasteful, but he adored it.

There were many serious health problems, both medical and psychiatric, that could be characterized as GAPS conditions, but they were not understood as related to food sensitivities and leaky gut.

There was too much food. Too much in terms of quantity and too much focus.

Were there any defining events that affected your attitude towards food and health?

There was a history of obesity and metabolic disorder on both sides of my family. I was very overweight as a child. When I was 13 I put myself on the “Stillman Diet” which was a low carb low fat diet. I lost 30 pounds and maintained that weight loss most of my adult life, until menopause. I think it was the first time that I understood that I am very carbohydrate sensitive, and that if I eat a high carb diet, that I don’t feel well. I also saw that I could effect my health and weight with diet.

I also was quite impressed when I stopped eating gluten in 2008 and noted the improvement in my mood and energy.

Learning about the GAPS diet was mind blowing. It made so much sense of all the disparate medical conditions plaguing my family members. The psychiatric symptoms, the food allergies, the inflammatory bowel disease, the osteoporosis, the kidney failure, all of it could be understood in the context of the theory of GAPS conditions.

I have also done elimination diets and discovered sensitivity to eggs which was very surprising, as they had been a mainstay of my diet. I felt very agitated and tense when I ate them. I have been avoiding them for the most part, but hope that at some point when my gut is healed, that I will be able to reintroduce them.

What’s your transition style: Gradual? Were there few stages? Cold turkey?

I am not good at doing things with diet gradually. I just need to stop eating things that make me feel unwell. I have been doing so many different diets though out my life time that it is part of my vocabulary for me to avoid certain foods, if they are not part of the diet. I am comfortable cooking, so that if I have to prepare bone broth or fermented vegetables, it does not feel onerous.

When you made changes, was it just you or were others such as a partner or children involved? How did they manage?

I am a single mom with three teenage children. I tried when they were younger to go gluten free with them. But it was a miserable struggle and not worth it. They are not that symptomatic. I often eat something different than they do for dinner. I will have a stew or soup and they will have something else. They see my example of a focus on diet and health and I know that it will rub off on them. In the future, I imagine that they will be more careful than they are now. They are all in pretty good health and spirits. It’s really hard with kids, especially if they do not feel ill.

My 14 year old daughter has reported to me that she feels shocked and very badly about what she sees parents feeding their children when she babysits. She talks about the juice and crackers and pretzels, and she knows that is not healthy. I am happy to witness that she has clearly integrated my perspective.

What does your diet currently consist of?

I have been having trouble following the GAPS diet in a consequent way in the last few months. I have been eating things that are not GAPS legal like rice and potatoes occasionally, and have been having some sweets. But I never eat gluten and my diet is mostly GAPS foods. I try to have bone broth daily and fermented vegetables. Its really mostly protein and vegetables and nuts, some fruit, not a lot.

I feel very well, though I am not cured of my constipation. My energy is great and I am sleeping well. I take a magnesium powder called CALM and that is very effective for me. I am feeling somewhat tired of the restrictions and wish that healing did not take so long. Its such a long road and it’s hard to keep up the motivation sometimes.

What physical or mental changes have occurred as a result of your dietary changes?

As mentioned above, my mood is really good and so is my energy and sleep. My digestive issues are not resolved but are manageable.

Which transitions were easy?

I have done low carb diets off an on my whole life. I have been doing GAPS and before that the Body Ecology Diet for some time. And honestly at the moment I am feeling really tired of it all. The transitions were pretty easy, but maintaining it for years on end is burdensome.

What did you find more difficult?

Sustaining it for years on end. Healing is a very slow process, there is no magic. Its hard not to wish for magic, or for somehow to be relieved of the burden of having to be so careful.

There is a wish that you could just forget about it and just eat whatever and feel well and not gain weight. That is unrealistic, I know, but it is still a wish.

What improvements to your diet do you still want to make or what things would you like to try?

My weight is up since going through menopause 4 years ago. I am uncomfortable weighing more and would like to be back to my pre-menopause weight which was ten pounds less than now. My motivation at the moment is low.

Do you crave any of the foods you’ve stopped eating?

I would love to have pizza and bread, but I know that I would not feel well if I did.

What reactions have you gotten from family and friends?

Everyone is used to me and my restrictions. Its been such a chronic situation.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?

I wish I had known about the GAPS healing protocol when my parents and brother were still alive. I could have helped multiple very ill family members. They did not know what to do to help themselves. I feel convinced that they would have been helped by avoiding grain and sugar and starchy vegetables, eating fermented foods and drinking broth. I think it’s a very powerful healing protocol and despite my complaints about the restrictions, I am very grateful to know about it. I am so glad to have it as a resource for my patients and I feel really well, despite the fact that I am not cured. Given what things were like for people in my family, I am in really great shape, even though it’s not perfect.

Want to read more transition stories?

My transition story

Jen’s transition story

Wardeh's transition story

This post was shared with Penniless Parenting, and Real Food Forager.

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