Friday, April 20, 2012

Malnutrition in America

It has been said that Americans are overfed and undernourished. I'm the poster child for the truth of this statement. Like all sweeping generalities, there are exceptions, but right now, every single state in the nation has an obesity rate of more than 30% of its adult population, so the things I'm about to say will probably ring true with at least some of my readers today.

We are blessed with food in abundance that few other nations of the world can rival. Our grocery stores are filled to the brim all the time, and if they're out of something, a new shipment will come in at midnight. However, much of that food is boxed, canned, and processed, all of which reduces its nutrient value. We get plenty to eat - and some of us get more than enough to eat - and yet our bodies are not receiving the kinds of nutrition they should. Pesticides on our produce break down the nutrition. Antibiotics in our meats break down our nutrition. When we take a look at what we're eating and we break it down to a cellular level, many people are not getting the nourishment their cells need to function properly.

I said I was the poster child for this - let me explain what I mean.

I was raised eating whole grain bread, cracked wheat hot cereal, apples, carrots - all good, healthy stuff, right? But we didn't eat meat very often, or other sources of protein. When I got older and was out on my own for meals more often, I did start to eat meat, but only once in a while - I still enjoyed bread products, and I have always enjoyed sugar, so that consumption went up as well. I married and got pregnant for the first time, and was told by my midwife that I was so severely anemic that she couldn't agree to deliver my baby unless I got my iron levels up because I'd bleed to death. She got me eating protein and iron every single day, and I was able to get my levels where they should be in time, but I'd had no idea how depleted I was until she told me.

Fast forward about eight years. The bones in my feet started popping out of alignment, and my chiropractor was kept very busy putting them back in. I spent a month completely off my feet one summer because the swelling in the foot simply would not go down, and it was impossible to put any weight on it without excruciating pain. Come forward in time to last fall. I experienced the same symptoms, and this time went to a new doctor, who found a hairline fracture in the foot. I have no doubt the foot was fractured the previous time, too - it felt exactly the same. I spent about six weeks totally off my feet, trundling around in a wheelchair - which was kind of fun in some ways, and kind of not in others - and eventually healed up.

Fast forward again to March 8th of this year. I stood up from my desk chair and went to change the laundry. I had taken maybe three steps before I felt something snap in my foot. Yes, the same foot I broke last fall. Yes, the same foot I most likely broke a few years ago. I called my doctor, who told me that I not only broke the foot, but I had damaged the tissues as well. He put a cast on the foot and told me I could be in it for up to eight weeks.

Two nights later, I was lying flat on my back in bed with my foot in the air, and I lifted the leg a little to adjust it on its pillows, and felt something snap in my ankle. I had just broken a tendon, lying in bed, barely moving.

How? How does a person break a bone walking out of their bedroom? How does a person break a tendon lying in bed? The kind of tissue damage I have right now usually accompanies a running injury or a severely twisted ankle - at the very least, an injury that comes from saving a child from a speeding train and thereby becoming a hero and making the pain worth it. How had I injured myself so severely when basically all I did was stand up?


With my lifetime diet of grains and no protein, fruits and vegetables but no calcium, I had depleted all my bones, ligaments, tendons, and tissues. Eating large amounts of grain spikes your insulin, which attacks your bones. By not balancing my diet with enough protein, I hadn't given my body the ingredients it needed to create muscles and tendons. If you were to look at me a year ago, weighing three hundred pounds, you would not have said that I was malnourished. You'd laugh and probably snort a little. "Oh, sure, she's malnourished, all right." Kind of like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, I was wasting away to practically nothing, but I was obese. I was eating the foods that made me fat, and I was not eating the foods that could build me up. And the saddest part? I didn't know it.

Me at 300 lbs.

I've had several good long talks with my doctor, and he has explained all this to me and helped figure out the status of my body and my nutrition. He has put me on some really good supplements to build up my bones and ligaments, and I've changed my diet drastically. I'm not perfect, but I'm a great deal closer to it than I was a year ago.

So, what happens from here on out? I'm out of the cast and I'm now in an ankle brace. I can put some weight on the foot, but I'm not walking by any means. And I just might break the foot again if I'm not careful. I can rebuild my body and I'm in the process of doing it right now. But it will take time. It will be about a year before my bones are strong, like they should have been my whole life. We're also working on getting my muscle core strengthened through diet and exercise. I'm basically starting from scratch, and someday I will be strong. For right now, I still have to be careful. I've broken the foot twice (and I believe three times, although I don't have documentation for the first time) and with it taking a year to rebuild my bones, I could break it again in a month or two months or nine weeks. This is one of the consequences I'm experiencing as a result of an entire lifetime of malnutrition.

I'm sharing this story for two reasons - first, because people keep asking me how I broke my foot. Well, I broke it standing up. The second reason is that I'm hoping to inspire you to take a look at your own nutrition and make sure that you are getting the proper amounts of everything you need. I didn't realize how bad off I was, and I wish someone had told me. My mom thought she had raised me to be as healthy as possible, and she's now having guilt because she didn't know. The fact is, a great many of us are in the same boat. We think we're doing everything we can, and yet, we may be missing something important, and we may end up finding it out in a very painful way.

So please, take good care of your nutrition. Make it a priority. If you take supplements, do some research and make sure they're good for your body and aren't just pretty pink pills. Eat enough protein. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Listen to the signals your body gives you. I've had my wake-up call - please let this be one for you so you can start to prevent things from happening to you instead of having to go through them for yourself.I'm not saying that you'll start breaking bones and tendons - your body and mine are very different, and you'd likely not experience the same things - but there are so many illnesses and conditions that come about because of lack of nutrition, and I don't want to see any of my friends suffer in that way. Eat right, take care of yourselves, and let's stay healthy together.


Alice said...

Wow, I didn't know any of this about you before. I always thought eating whole grains and fruits and veggies and less meat and dairy was healthier, but now I'm not so sure.

Eva said...

Yup. Your story rings true with lots of things I've been reading. In fact maybe you might be interested in reading the story that I found on the athleticgreens website. The poor guy was malnourished even as a hard core athlete!

He said something that hit me, and I'm curious to know if you have experienced the same. He said something to the effect of: If you never feel like exercising, then you are probably malnourished.

That was one of the things that kicked me into my eating revolution, and funny thing is that after YEARS of NEVER wanting to exercise, I actually felt like getting active! This would be definitely thanks to my eating much better nowadays.

BTW I tried the athletic greens vitamin supplement and loved it, but I no longer get it only because of the price. If it were more affordable I would get it.

Jenn Wilks said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Tristi! I think you're SO RIGHT about us being overfed and undernourished. In fact, I think that's why we overeat - because our bodies don't have the nutrients they need, so they keep telling us we're hungry.

I definitely need to approach my diet and exercise needs with a health approach rather than a weight-loss approach. That's the only way I've been able to lose weight in the past. Any time I try to "lose weight," I fail. But when I try to get healthy, I not only get healthier, but I lose weight, too. Thanks for the reminder. :)