Of Milk and Mason Jars: My Journey to Real Food

For a long time I've wanted to write about my journey to "Real Food" or Traditional Nutrition. I've hesitated because it seems like a rather long story, and a journey that quite frankly I'm still on. It's been a pretty amazing journey, spiritually speaking, in that it has empowered me as a woman to realize my potential at bringing healing and nourishment to my loved ones. Food preparation has always been a sacrificial act of love across all cultures. Unfortunately, I grew up in a time when the food culture was probably at an all-time low in this country. My journey, like many, began with a deep question and the search for answers.

As a high school student, I had horrible acne. Enough said. I tried everything under the sun to eradicate this seemingly typical adolescent curse. I searched for answers; is it what I put on my face? Is it what I put into my body? Some said greasy foods caused acne. I didn't eat greasy foods. Some said it was chocolate. I didn't eat much of that either....I pretty quickly dismissed the notion that it had anything to do with what I ate. Besides, I did what every good teen in the early 90s did and ate a low fat diet, full of low fat goodies like bagels, pretzels, and diet soda. I weighed a whooping 126 pounds and never had to worry about my weight. I would find out later that the junk I ate went straight to my face!

In an attempt to get real results, I started taking daily doses of Tetracycline my senior year and throughout my freshman year of college. Tetracycline is an antibiotic; the theory is that if the "bad bacteria" that cause acne are destroyed, there will also go the acne. In addition, I would apply a Retinal cream (vitamin A) to my face.

I learned two things from this experience. 1) Antibiotics made me have horrible digestion(and I thought it was the food in the college dining hall....okay it was probably both) and 2) Vitamin A really worked to clear up my face!!! That really began my turn toward nutritional answers, but it would be several years later before I would have the motivation to continue the search more deeply. You see, the drugs and the Retinal worked, so despite my uncomfortable digestion and massive loss of hair, fatigue, and other problems (which I attributed to being a college student), at least my face had cleared up.

Shortly after earning my Master's Degree in 2001, I became engaged to my husband. The whirlwind of grad school, wedding planning, first job, first home, etc. etc. kept me distracted from my health until things finally started to settle down for us. Almost immediately after the wedding my husband and I both got sick, and it seemed like we were sick nearly all the time. It manifested itself differently; for me it was constant colds, sore throats, yeast infections, hair loss, and bad dandruff. I'm fairly positive that I lost a very early-along pregnancy a few years after we were married as well.

For my husband, it was horrible pains all throughout his body and especially after eating. There were major bloating, gas, cramping,etc. Since my husband was in so much pain, I became very focused on researching what was going on in his body. Interestingly enough, our neighbor in our first apartment complex was a recently-diagnosed celiac, and I remember her spending hours talking to me all about it, and she sharing books and resources with me. At the time I kept thinking "why am I so fascinated by this? I don't have celiac and my husband probably doesn't either..." But her story always struck me, and opened the door to a whole world of digestive illnesses that I never knew about before.

Much researching lead us to "leaky gut syndrome" and candida being the main culprits for my husband. I bagged up all the pastas, white flour, and other "junk food" in the house and gave it away to my other poor in-debt recent college grads who happily took it off my hands. I started to research ways of cooking so that my husband would find healing.

During this time period, we became really close friends with a couple, the wife of which was on her own healing journey. She was always sharing different diets/food philosophies. Early on she introduced me to The Blood Type Diet and for a while we followed that, but it became very difficult as my husband and I have totally different and incompatible blood types. I was feeling overwhelmed at how to actually cook for both of us. This friend of ours later introduced me to the Raw Foods movement a la Ann Wigmore. I began sprouting, making quinoa rejuvalac, and eating a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. I began to really feel alive and full of energy again for the first time. I think the rejuvalac, which is full of enzymes and beneficial bacteria was especially helpful for both of us.

That year, I spent Lent (the 40 day period before the Easter, in which Orthodox Christians basically follow a vegan diet) eating strictly vegan and mostly raw foods. I felt really good, and Karl was slowly improving as well. At that point he had started a colonic regimen that really jump-started the healing process for him. We also worked with an amazing bodywork therapist, Dan Taylor of Tendano, whose love and passion as a gifted healer always brought Karl and I insight into our physical conditions. By Easter, we were both actually feeling pretty good. I had dropped down to 121 pounds, which was an all-time low for me. It was about a week after Easter that I became pregnant with my first child.

Those of you who are veteran real foodies and who know a little bit of my journey with my daughter (and her myriad of health issues) will quickly recognize that my pre-conception diet (being strict vegan) was, while perhaps somewhat healing for me personally, was not at all an ideal pre-pregnancy diet. My pregnancy was pretty typical; awful morning sickness, a decent 2nd trimester, and extreme weight gain in the 3rd trimester.

My pregnancy diet was full of junk. I used pregnancy as a license to eat basically whatever I craved (ask anyone of my family members to recall my constant consumption of fast food during this time period). It's like I didn't take care of myself at all, I did try to eat lots of veggies and salads and "good stuff", but I knew nothing about the Weston Price nutritional protocols, except for something vague I'd heard about cod liver oil, so I faithfully choked some down each day of my pregnancy.

Even though my birth story is another subject entirely, I will mention just a few things pertinent to my journey. My daughter was born traumatically in a crash c-section (hello, more antibiotics for me!) and she was extremely underweight even though she was 2 weeks overdue. I had been under the care of home birth midwives who didn't catch that my fundal heights were not where they should be, and therefore didn't see that my daughter wasn't growing properly. And it was an honest mistake on their part, since I had gained A LOT of weight, almost 50 lbs, for a 5 lb, 6 oz baby!

The aftermath of the c-section was difficult to recover from for me. Constipation, indigestion, and feelings of failure were unbearable early on. To top it off, I had a very low milk supply and had to do the typical pump-feed-pump-feed around the clock drill which didn't really help much. During that time of trial emerged another deep question: Why can't I produce enough milk to feed my baby? At that time, my friend (of whom I spoke earlier) was just getting into the Nourishing Traditions movement and shared with me a kefir grain. I hardly knew what to do with it, but she assured me that it would help my supply so I tried it. At first I thought it was really gross to leave milk sitting out on the counter over a few days and couldn't believe I was actually going to drink it, but when I did I felt so amazing that my body kept craving more. I drank it for several weeks but eventually stopped due to feeling so overwhelmed and I think I killed my starter. Besides, kefir didn't really improve my milk supply like I'd hoped.

At that point I did turn to nutrition for answers, but got the advice to consume lots of whole grain carbohydrates such as oatmeal, breads, beer, etc. to increase my milk supply. So that I did, but to no avail. I only gained weight (I was sitting at about 160 lbs for the longest time) and felt awful.

A year passed by and it started to look like I'd never be back to my original size or energy level. Come spring time, I started to really get serious about diet and exercise and began following fad diets from Women's Day. I totally fell for the "DROP 20 LBS BY VALENTINE'S DAY!!!" headlines and bought those magazines and devoured their content, page by page.

Through these magazines, I found The Sonoma Diet: Trimmer Waist, Better Health in Just 10 Days! and it taught me about portion control, limiting whole grains and starchy veggies, and food combining. I started eating more slowly and enjoying the fine flavors of real food. The Sonoma Diet has some really good concepts and recipes, but I don't like that they include lots of low-fat or fat-free dairy in their menus. The BEST thing about Sonoma is that it finally got me off of my addiction to sugar. I was eating a huge plate of steamed broccoli every day for lunch, along with quality meats and veggies at dinner. The weight really started to fall off!!

In addition, I started reading French Women Don't Get Fat and that is probably by far one of the top 3 most influential books that finally turned me on to real food. I started to savor more, to slow down, to drink more water between meals, to enjoy good quality fats and to dump refined sugars and carbs for good. For me, this was what really helped me turn the corner in my own healing. Looking back, I'm positive that it was the sugar and refined grains (and possibly, in my case, even the whole grains) that wreaked havoc on my system, already compromised from years of antibiotics taken. I am sure that it was those foods that kept my hormones so out of whack in high school and that caused my acne. Since my diet all those years was "low fat" (read: white sugar and white flour), it's no wonder that my face looked so awful! They say that our skin is a reflection of what's going on in our gut. Ick!

As I started losing weight, people began to notice and one person mentioned Coconut Oil as a real weight loss accelerator. I quickly started researching coconut oil and found The Coconut Diet: The Secret Ingredient That Helps You Lose Weight While You Eat Your Favorite Foods which was instrumental as well. We began juicing, consuming coconut oil, and cutting out the carbs.

We finally started feeling (and looking!) better! I had finally (19 months later!) dropped back to my normal pre-pregnancy weight of 126 lbs. Wouldn't you know it was a few days after the above picture was taken that I found out I was pregnant with baby #2! This time, I had a much better preconception diet, and I planned to stay the course, even though the rough first trimester. I stuck to meats and veggies and minimized grains.

A few months into the pregnancy, I received a copy of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. It was at this time we were blessed to stumble upon a local source for fresh, certified clean, pastured organic milk and I started drinking it regularly. I was feeling so great from the milk and the coconut oil (and probably those feelgood nesting hormones of the 2nd trimester) so I channelled it all into learning about the Traditional Foods lifestyle. I started soaking grains, making my own kefir and yogurt, and making my own kombucha and sourdough bread.

I later started making beet kvass, sauerkraut, and lacto-fermented jam and pickles. By the end of the 2nd trimester I had converted our family over to a strictly Traditional Foods diet. My son's birth, although another c-section (I tried to VBAC!!!! I have some sort of pelvic problem), was peaceful and non-eventful. He came out totally strong and healthy, and I recovered immediately. I attribute this to my boot-legged kombucha brought into the hospital! Although my milk supply still wasn't adequate for my son, I continued (and still to this day) to nurse him and supplement him with farm-fresh, certified clean goat's milk formula (also a subject of an entirely different post!) and watch him grow by leaps and bounds and thrive on the goat's milk and all of the other real foods he's been given.

It has been amazing to watch the healing that has taken place in all of our bodies as we've transitioned to whole foods. I have found such joy and passion in both preparing these delicious foods and eating them. I've felt better than I've felt in a long time, despite lingering structural issues (probably carrying around 30+ lbs of kid throughout the day!). My skin is totally clear and soft, the dandruff is gone, the yeast infections are no longer a problem! My monthly cycles come and go without much of a notice. I have energy and virtually no digestive issues to speak of, unless of course I eat something I shouldn't! Seeing the health and vitality in my children also brings me so much joy and thankfulness to God for His wisdom that he gives us in taking care of our families.

For our family, the transition wasn't difficult because it was our hope. For me, it was more important to find healing for my family than to have the convenience of "easy" food. Feeling better motivated me to do the work involved. I thank God for his grace in allowing us to obtain this wisdom, and I don't take it for granted, nor do I forget His part in leading me here. I don' t assume that diet is the silver bullet for everyone, but I am thankful that it has been a large part of our family's healing.

Of course, the journey continues, as you'll read. We are now eating a gluten-free, grain-free diet for the sake of my daughter's healing (yet another long post!) and quite frankly the rest of us feel great eating this way right now too. I'm sure the paradigm will shift and new insights will be given, and perhaps we'll be able to go back to eating grains, even gluten, again. But for now, this is where we are, and this is where I've come from.

If you've read this far, thank you so much! May God bless you in your journey to health, healing, and wholeness!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I really enjoy reading other's journeys to nourishing food. I think you are further along than I am and I am learning so much from you and others.

I had no idea you struggled with milk supply issues. I have too, with both of my boys (I type this as I am pumping). I really wonder if it has to do with thyroid/adrenals.

Laura Jo said...

Thank you for this story! I am actually a student in college right now and happen to be on the same antibiotic and cream for acne! I've been reading about this real foods movement for a few months now. It sounds fantastic, and I can't wait to completely switch over.. unfortunately, it's a little difficult when you live in dorms and have to eat on campus =(

I'm still on that antibiotic and cream. Would you suggest anything different right now given that I can't really change my diet completely yet?

Michele @ Frugal Granola said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing your story, Carrie. I don't think I've ever heard the whole thing; just bits & pieces. :)

Hey, by the way, I wonder if that big weight gain contributed to difficulty finding your fundal height? Mine is really easy to find (at least at this point). Calvin & I both can easily find it, and the midwives were a bit surprised at how easily they could find it. :) Just a thought.

I love seeing all that you're learning (and learning from you!). :) Thanks! By the way, the kefir you gave me had a "baby" the other day. Calvin was thrilled to discover it; he didn't know that was possible. :)


Susan said...

very interesting Karrie!!

Frederick said...

Hello Carrie T! "...one person mentioned Coconut Oil as a real weight loss accelerator..."
- Now that's one smart person! :-)

Seriously, coconut oil is the perfect dietary oil/fat for managing body weight.

Coconut oil is predominantly medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). Almost all other oils/fats are mostly, if not entirely, long chain fatty acids (LCFA). MCFAs are so different from LCFAs. Their absorption, transport, metabolism and uses are completely different.

MCFAs go straight to your liver to power metabolism, which can't be said of LCFAs. In a nutshell, MCFA-rich coconut oil is Pro-Energy, NOT Pro-Fat.

Did you know that a single coconut oil meal can elevate your metabolism and keep it elevated for up to 24 hours? Eat Fat to Lost Fat? Absolutely, with coconut oil! Just my two cents.

Your Drugstore in a Bottle

Kelly the Kitchen Kop said...

Carrie, I second Laura's question about natural acne treatment. My son only has it a little, but anything is too much for a teen. We've told him to lay off sneaking the sweets, but he said he just "wants some medicine" for it. Grrrrr... You mentioned vitamin A - I wonder if I should up his daily CLO? Any other "easy" ideas that I might get a teenager to go for?
Thanks, Carrie!
Kelly p.s. FUN reading about your journey. :)

Carrie T said...


Thank you for your encouragement. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that my milk supply issues are related to the thyroid/adrenal issues, and I want to give a shout out to Cheeseslave for shedding light on that connection over a year ago. And thanks for reminding me that I need to write a post about my breastfeeding saga, in hopes that it will give encouragement to others out there!!

Thanks for the comment,


Carrie T said...

Laura Jo and Kelly,

Thanks for your comments! Laura Jo, and I can so relate, as you know!!! I definitely think Cod Liver Oil would be a quick and easy supplement to take and would cover a "multitude of dorm food sins" so to speak! My brother is also a college student and he has his little stash of CLO that he keeps with him.

Ok, and as for the rest of the quesitons I think it would be better for me to address them in a separate post, coming soon!

Stay tuned, ladies!


Carrie T said...


I think your theory is probably right, and I suspect that I have a prolapsed uterus due to my structural pelvic issues, which could possibly throw things off, I wonder?

Congrats on the new kefir baby!!! Isn't that so fun!?!?!?


Kimi@ The Nourishing Gourmet said...


Thanks for sharing so openly about your journey. How wonderful to hear your journey towards good health. Keep up the good work. :-)


herewegokids said...

New to your blog and totally appreciating all the great information you share. I'm 41 and homeschooling our 7 children, ages 15 to 1. I can relate to much of your health history and am getting inspired to start the coconut oil and fermenting some foods!! God bless.