By complete chance, I learned how to get healthy eating habits, how to keep them, keep the weight off, and enjoy eating healthy food.
By the age of seventeen I had already developed poor habits. I didn’t eat dinner at home with my family because I was out with my friends and making poor food choices. Later in college, I went to Salamanca, Spain, to learn Spanish and lived in an apartment with other students. I did accomplish my goal to speak Spanish but I continued to make bad food choices. Nevertheless, while in Spain, it was very clear to me that the afternoon meal was an extremely important event in Spanish households. All the schools and shops closed down at 1:30 or 2:00 p.m. and the streets, cafeterias and Tapa bars were empty. It just seemed so odd that the whole country would shut down daily for an afternoon meal.
After I met my husband, who is Spanish, I started eating regular meals with his family, with the main meal in the afternoon at 2:00 or 2:30, and a light dinner between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. Being in my stepmother’s home, I ate whatever was on my plate–and that always included some form of protein like fish, chicken, beef or pork, accompanied with fresh bread and salad, a bowl of fresh vegetable puree, or legumes –lentils, white beans, garbanzos or pintos. Over time, my energy level was more stable and my mood also seemed better, less volatile. I still drank sodas and ate pocketfuls of hard candies, but I did notice a pleasant change in my body.
Whenever I’d come back to the United States after being in Spain, I ate the same way I always had at home, and my health suffered as a result. After years of visiting Spain, the connection was finally sinking in (duh!), that healthy eating habits include eating regular homemade meals of fresh bread, protein, salad or freshly cooked vegetables topped with olive oil, all eaten in the company of family and, or, friends.
Although León, my husband’s town, is in Northern Spain, the diet is similar to the generally well-regarded Mediterranean diet in many respects. This is probably due to the fact that a good part of Spain borders with the ocean.
To sum it up, I came to appreciate the importance of making regular healthy meals and eat them in the company of family and friends. Also, that by eating healthier, I was able to cut out many of the sweets that I loved to eat, simply because I felt more satisfied. And I learned to use more fresh vegetables and legumes, not canned. The only cans I that I still use from time to time are tomatoes, or tuna fish. And I developed an appreciation and love for olive oil on just about everything. But, one Spanish tradition that I don’t follow is the custom that many Spaniards have of drinking a glass of red wine with the meal. For health purposes I stay away from alcohol.
These healthy changes might be just the right changes for someone whose overall health is pretty good, and who just needs to develop better eating habits; but unfortunately, these changes of habits were not enough for me. My body still hurt from Rheumatoid Arthritis, which I believe was caused by years of bad eating habits and eating inflammation-producing foods. Just getting healthy eating habits was not enough for me. I needed something more drastic.