This post has been sitting in my drafts for several years now. There’s been so much to say and so many emotions that it really has been one of the hardest things to write down. To talk about my whole life in FULL detail we’ll be here till next week, so I’ll just skip to the defining moments.
My mom died when I was 12.
I have yet to meet a stronger more resilient person, yet the battle with cancer was too great, even for a warrior like her. But boy did she fight. Like full on underground dirty cage fighting style! Even though she grappled with this toxic disease engulfing her on the inside for years, on the outside she remained calm and controlled and she made it look like life just went on as per usual for her, when in reality it was anything but. I think that’s why her death came as such a shock to me. She was invincible in my eyes. She was Mom. There was nothing she couldn’t do, fix, troubleshoot or mend-and-make-do the hell out of something that you couldn’t even remember that it was once broken.
One of my most vivid memories that will stay with me forever, it must have been about a year before she died. We were lying together reading bedtime stories and for some strange reason I thought to ask her outright, “Mom, are you going to die?” and without skipping a beat she answered “not today I won’t!” and she dashed a confident smile at me. Only now as a mother myself does that moment in time haunt me, knowing how scared and fragile she must have felt. Knowing that the prognosis was grave and that doctors had probably given her only 6 months to live. Knowing the weight of all the futile treatment and debilitating side effects and impact it had on our family over the years would all have been for nothing. Even though she knew all of that, she still chose strength instead of being an emotional mess. She carried that confident smile right up until the end.
My dad was hit badly. Bullet-wound badly. Yet he still showed up, every day and instead of running away from the situation, which let’s face it, a guy in his 50’s, recently widowed with a 12 year old daughter on the verge of teenage hood. What would you want to do?
I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad was the most emotionally generous person I will probably ever have the privilege of knowing. You would never know it from first impressions though. He was a short stocky man with a grizzly temper, when he spoke it made you feel like you were in trouble just for looking in his direction. But if you got to see past the steel facade, you would see a heart so big it was amazing it didn’t crush him. But in the end it was this giant ocean of emotions that he carried around in his battered old body that eventually drowned him. The sorrow and longing he had for my mom every minute of the day consumed him. 9 years after my mom had passed away he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that had spread to virtually everywhere by the time he gave in and went to the doctor. I believe he knew he was terminally ill for a long time. But he hung on long enough to see me find my wings and as soon as he knew I had become my own person it’s as if his heart could finally open the flood gates and he let go. Less than a year after the initial diagnosis he was dead.
I’m not sure what hit me harder. For a girl to lose her mother at such a vulnerable age calloused my soul, but that exoskeleton gave me a resilience I could only fully appreciate later in life. Plus you don’t know what you’ve missed out on losing your maternal figure at that age, so from that perspective it might have been easier. Losing my dad was like losing a vital organ. Day-to-day functioning seemed so much more overwhelming without his influence and guidance in my life. Having children of your own is when it hits you the hardest, knowing they will never get to know each other. But I take comfort in the fact that I had 12 years and 21 years with two of the most incredible influencers and it’s an honour to carry their legacy in my DNA every day. So I was faced with a choice. Choose to let self-pity and melancholy define me, or piece together the shards that were left of myself and create something from the emotional rubble. So I chose to look for lessons in the wreckage.
My mom was way ahead of her time. I was the only ten year old I knew who would eat miso soup and preferred to use chopsticks. Daikon root and chinese cabbage were more common in our house than the Macarena was on the radio at the time. So many of my happiest memories of my mom are centred around food. Yet ironically I would have such a hateful relationship with food for so many years to come.
Which is then no surprise that food and everything that goes with it is such a big part of my life. My mom treasured recipe books, and I would spend hours just paging through them admiring the food photography, which looking back now was painfully 80’s. There were carnations in nearly every shot! Trying to decipher her scratchy scribbles where she edited most of the recipes to her liking. Clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. These memories are what shaped me to be so passionate about all things surrounding food.
But my relationship with food wasn’t always so peachy. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom’s obsession with healthy eating was her way of desperately trying to outrun the disease that was chasing her. Subconsciously for many years after she’d died I had a very bad relationship with food. After all, my mom was one of the most health-conscious people I knew, and even she couldn’t get it right. So what was the point of eating properly. To hell with healthy food I thought! It was a waste of time, you die anyway right?!
I went through almost a health rebellion, and consumed so much junk and developed some pretty unhealthy eating disorders to go with it. Looking back I was almost trying to spite food as if it was responsible for my mother’s death. I gained a lot of weight in my teens from the awful combination of binge eating and then deprivation going on every yo-yo diet known to man. My health was starting to take a serious turn for the worst. I was pre-diabetic and had such bad hypoglycaemia that blacking out was a weekly occurrence.
It was only when I landed up in hospital a few months after moving to the UK in my early twenties did I wake up to the fact all this self-sabotage was hurting no one but myself. The doctors were talking about removing my gall bladder if things didn’t improve, the chronic flair ups of pancreatitis were happening monthly now. I had to take a serious long hard look in the mirror and make some changes.
So I researched. I Googled until the cows came home! I’d already done most of the recommended dietry changes ten times over. Low fat, Low GI, Atkins, WeighLess, Weightwatchers, HerbalLife – you name it, I’d tried it. Twice! Then I came across something that at first I thought was a joke. Low carb HIGH fat. Were they joking? This was long before the Banting craze had hit South Africa, and I was one of a handful of people I knew trying it out. It took a good year, but I lost almost 20kgs and was in the best shape of my life. I hadn’t had a pancreatitis flair up since eating more fat, oh the irony. I also believe I have the LCHF diet to thank for helping me conceive. It wasn’t an easy journey, but that’s a story for another day. But that I was able to avoid fertility treatment with my complicated ovulation troubles and progesterone issues was nothing short of a miracle. So I have a lot to thank a LCHF lifestyle for.
But in saying that, my relationship with food changed again. When I became a mom, it was no longer about me and my body’s needs. I was now feeding growing little people, they weren’t meant to be doing intermittent fasting and they needed carbs. So once again I researched. But this time my approach was much simpler.
We eat real food. As close to it’s natural state as possible. This I believe is the universal answer to all food-related issues. Sure, some of us are on a weight loss journey. I know I was for a long time. But the foundation for all healthy eating practices is to eat what nature intended. My kids eat tons of carbs, way more in a day than I probably consumed in a month back in my strict LCHF days. But the difference is it comes from real natural food.
So after 30 odd years on this tumultuous journey with something we do several times a day. I have two pieces of advice – Just eat real food, and add something green every day. Learn to love those lettuce leaves.