Select Page

A Real Food Journey

We’re very honored to have a guest post from Shannon of Nourishing Days today. She’s a definite real food inspiration, and I think you’ll love reading about her journey, and maybe even relate to it a little.

I have a theory about real food: people are either born into it or they find it out of illness and desperation. I fall into the latter category.

I grew up eating your typical standard American diet (SAD). There was a lot of sugar, skipped breakfasts, a ton of processed food, and did I mention a lot of sugar?

Not surprisingly, I was sick a lot. Every winter I came down with severe colds, bronchitis and pneumonia. I never knew what it was like to feel well.

I was overweight from the age of 6 or so. While I played sports and enjoyed being active, I was never at a healthy weight. My last year of high school I became so frustrated with my weight issues that I tried everything to shed pounds.

Some of my efforts were good – like exercising more and just being aware of what I was putting into my mouth. Others were much more harmful – like drinking diet soda, taking “diet” pills and not eating at all. I never went as far as anorexia or bulemia, but my unhealthy relationship with food continued. I no longer ate for comfort, but now I was terrified to eat anything. Food was the enemy, so I thought, and eating as little as possible was the goal.

When I went away to college that thought process continued. I gained and lost weight over the course of those four years. One of those years was spent in nearly constant pain as I struggled with a diet and stress-induced digestive disorder. I eventually lost some weight by keeping my calories below 1800 and playing competetive volleyball. There was a lot of aspartame, soy milk, and whole wheat bread, but not a lot of nourishment.

In the summer of 2005 I graduated from college, got married and moved all in 30 days time. It was wonderful, exciting and life-altering. I was working only part-time and spent the rest of my time learning to cook. We were eating whole grains, cutting out high fructose corn syrup, MSG and most packaged food. I only bought low-fat foods and made sure replace half of my butter with vegetable oil to avoid saturated fat. I was so misinformed.

Days after his birth I came down with an infection, which I had apparently been harboring due to underlying health issues. I then struggled to make enough milk for my son. Lactation consultants, non-stop feedings and pumpings, and countless herbs later I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I later found out that all of the soy I had previously eaten was a common cause of thyroid problems.

Photo by Dale Gillard

Why do we think we can approve upon His work?

The next time I bought yogurt for our smoothies it was plain and full-fat . That one item symbolized the start of a change in the way I thought about food. And over the past five years I have come to realize that the debacle of our current food system is just one piece in a very ungodly, unsustainable system.

Every dollar we spend, every store we visit, every day we choose a certain lifestyle we are voting. Who will we support? Should we live in a way that demands foreign oil? Is your lifestyle so important that you are willing to send a loved one to war to sustain it? Should we be more responsible for our own food production?

I believe that real food is common sense. It won’t make a CEO rich, but it will nourish our children. I may have come to real food out of illness and desperation, but I want our children to be nourished with raw milk, homegrown foods, and a knowledge of where their food comes from.

Stay tuned, as we give away a copy of Shannon’s wonderful new cookbook, Simple Food {for winter} on Friday!

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Sarah Partain

    I have hypothyroidism that has been brought on by pregnancy. My baby is almost 1 and after a year and a half of being on synthroid, I am off it and trying to manage and care for my thyroid naturally. I am getting more and more into the real/whole food movement, and have been off of caffeine, sugar and alcohol this month. I’ve been taking Vitamin D on and off for the last year and have been giving it to my kids, too. I think it’s a little-known secret and have been telling all of my friends. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Rachel

    Great post. I, too, am moving away from processed food and finding it very freeing. Now excuse me, I have to go eat some full-fat plain yogurt 🙂

  3. denise

    i enjoyed reading this Shannon. I easily relate. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    Thanks for sharing your story, Shannon! I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and you have a such a great way of inspiring and educating your readers through your beautiful photography and solid information.

  5. Kasey

    I’ve always wanted & tried (very difficult considering my husband’s eating habits) to eat healthy and real foods. Personally, I am against dairy not just because I’m allergic-ear infections resulting in almost losing 35% of my hearing, but because it is completely unnatural to me – no other mammal drinks another specie’s milk. With that being said, at the time I was given only 2 options- soy or rice milk (the latter being absolutely awful tasting). So, since I was three (for 20 years) I have been consuming large quantities of soy and after finishing nursing my son, have been giving it to him (only about 2 years). There is so much conflicting about soy. As far as I know it hasn’t done any harm (yet) – my mom has thyroid issues and has never had soy in her diet. With all that it still scares me and I’m not left with many options (no nuts, either). I could try coconut milk but I’m not sure I’d like it or even be ok drinking it. I think I’m going to have my thyroid tested next dr appt. I really am clueless and kind of stuck in a rut.

    • Shannon

      Kasey – I didn’t mean to imply that soy is the only cause of thyroid problems, but rather one of many in our modern day. As far as dairy-free “milk” options I always thing coconut and almond milks are the best options. You can even make coconut kefir out of the milk. Or maybe just not using any type of milk since you are against animal milks. That does take some getting used to, though.

  6. Chandelle

    Wonderful story! Your line about sending a loved one to war is especially insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Alicia

    We eat very naturally too, though probably somewhat differently than your family. We avoid dairy and meat and eat mostly vegetarian, organic, whole foods.

    In my case, motherhood was what really moved me to research nutrition and make a concerted effort to serve healthy foods. Later, I became very sick and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At that point, I went vegan and it helped immensely. It was the only thing that started a turn around for me towards regaining my energy and vitality. I am not vegan now but one of my daughters is and I cook mostly vegan (and almost always vegetarian) now.

    We start our days with green smoothies (varying greens, banana, fruit and water) and our meals are mostly organic with lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains. We garden and can and freeze produce from our back yard and the farmers’ market so we can eat at least some local, healthy, sustainably grown food year round. It also keeps the food bill very low while still allowing me to cook up a storm and serve healthy, tasty food. 🙂

    I absolutely agree about our dollars going to support what we value too!

    • Shannon

      Alicia – I think that is a great point about motherhood. Pregnancy and nursing takes so much out of you and it isn’t until afterward that you see just how depleted you are. I definitely have seen this after having two children.

      • Alicia

        Oh, I didn’t mean motherhood made me ill. I meant that after I became a mother I was determined to learn all I could about nutrition and to be sure to serve healthy meals for my children’s sake. In my case, I wasn’t born into healthy eating and didn’t choose it as a result of illness, but rather chose it for the sake of our family once I became a mother. Later, I became sick myself and moved towards veganism and began to research even more. It’s certainly true that pregnancy and nursing can deplete us though. 🙂

  8. Elizabeth E.

    Lovely post. I am a person who is dedicating my life to making whole foods from scratch for my family and trying to share it with the world. My hope is to make a dent in the standard American diet (SAD- how true) by showing people that you can make good food at home without too much time and that by making healthy food at home you can also enjoy treats and sweets in moderation without all the terrible side effects.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I feel a ground swell going on here and hopefully together we’re making progress!

    • Amanda (mama2o)

      That’s great, Elizabeth! I support you! I am on the same journey, although, not very publicly. I do, however, share your desire to spread the knowledge of truly healthy eating. Do you have a blog or anything?

      Thank you fir sharing, Shannon!

  9. Rachel B

    Do you have any suggested books (that aren’t e-books… unfortunately, I can’t download them) regarding eating whole foods and cutting out refined sugars? I really want to try to adjust my diet, but it seems very overwhelming!

    • Shannon

      Rachel B – I have a lot of suggestions :). Here are a few of my favorites:

      Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price
      Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (obviously)
      Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice
      Real Food by Nina Planck
      Real Food for Mother & Baby by Nina Planck
      The River Cottage Series
      The Encyclopedia of Country Living
      The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala

      I should do a whole post on these books and why they’re great :).

  10. Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    I know how you feel. I started out the same way you did, eating processed food, struggling with counting calories and eating fake foods, fighting weight gain despite eating “well.” I was so depleted after my daughter was born I didn’t make enough milk (but managed to keep breastfeeding anyway), and got very sick. I had what I think was mono from about her 5th week to her 10th. Then I had severe joint pain, so that I was afraid to carry her around in case I dropped her. A cheap multivitamin actually cured the joint pain because I was THAT depleted.

    We changed our diet during my second pregnancy (and have continued to make changes). I had TONS of milk the second time around (and still seem to even though I’m three months pregnant again!), and I just felt great within days after my son’s birth. It’s only gotten better from there. Health absolutely can and DOES turn around with real food!

  11. Kurt A.

    Flouride in our water destroys the thyroid and is the leading cause of Hypothroidism. Be careful of what bottled water you buy since most companies add it as well.

    • Shannon

      Kurt – Excellent point!

  12. Renee @ Loca-Faces

    Nice introduction; thanks. I’ve been on a similar path for the last three years. From our own experience, eating similarly to the diets you suggest and are found in Nourishing Traditions or Real Food, and others… we’ve been sick much less often and we certainly have no weight issues.

  13. Laura

    The “War for Oil” comment was a bit of a cheap shot for a food blog.

    • Shannon

      Laura – I’m not sure how being mindful about our oil consumption and being realistic about the realities of a very sought after resource is a “cheap shot”. It is not directed at any political party or specific person, but rather at everyone of us who uses oil (myself included).

      If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that any system (food or not) that is dependent heavily on oil is a dangerous one. By dangerous I mean that once the oil reserves begin to get lower and lower there will be a power-struggle over these resources. Unless, of course, we are willing to live without oil. Oil is what makes the middle class lifestyle in this country look like the richest of lifestyles in other nations. It is what allows us to outsource food production.

      I don’t believe it is a cheap shot to ask that people be mindful about what they consume, where their food comes from, and the fact that if we want oil we will most likely have to fight for it someday. And honestly, for me it is personal because I have sent a brother to war and I’m not willing to let my choices be the factor that sends someone else’s loved one off to do my bidding.

  14. Susanna

    I’d like to second the reading list request! Also not e-books 🙂 There is so much out there it’s mind boggling trying to find what to read!

    • Shannon

      Susanna – I am copying over my list from above. Also, on the ebooks… I don’t like reading on the computer, either. If there ever is one worth reading I usually order the hard copy version, which my winter cookbook will be available in very soon. Here’s my list:

      Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A Price
      Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (obviously)
      Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice
      Real Food by Nina Planck
      Real Food for Mother & Baby by Nina Planck
      The River Cottage Series
      The Encyclopedia of Country Living
      The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala

      I should do a whole post on these books and why they’re great :).

  15. Susanna

    Thank you so much for the list!

  16. Jun

    I felt I needed to respond to Kasey and the consumption of soy milk. There is a lot of research on soy and one of the main things that sticks in my head is that soy milk is loaded with estrogen. If you are already estrogen dominate it can pile on a lot more problems for you. For instance if you feed a baby soy formula it’s like giving them 5 birth control pills a day! It is causing little girls to go into puberty as early as 8 and 9 years old, and it is causing little boys to under develop.
    The only safe soy to consume is fermented, eg: fermented soy sauce or miso . They have proven in research that soy was never intended for human consumption. One site you can check out on the subject is Dr Mercola he has reported on this several times. Or Dr Ted Koren. We live in very trying times and it seems that we are on our own when it comes to what is good for us that is why these blogs are so good it gives a collection of knowledge. Granted some good and some not so good. I don’t do dairy at all I use the nut milks they are a much safer choice. And I don’t have to worry about GMO’s. Just remember you can’t always believe every thing the promoters of products say, their job is on the line not your health. I wish you good health.

  17. Diana

    Thanks for sharing your story, Shannon. I went through some similar experiences and have been trying to turn my eating and health around!

    Mmm.. full fat yogurt!

  18. Alicia

    Thank you for your insightful comments. I (sort of) agree with a previous commenter that bringing up foreign oil seemed out of nowhere, but after reading your response to her it makes much more sense. I wish I had understood where you were coming from as I read the original article, because it is a completely valid point!

    My food journey started with trying to get away from white flour, then it progressed to sugar, and it’s sort of grown into this great quest to buy the very best for our income.

    I am a believer in local products, though sometimes my frugal nature points me otherwise. I do think we are doing our bodies a great disservice by purchasing things that have been picked so early and far away that, days later, they still look good. How is that nutritionally beneficial?

    I think it’s a testament to the consumer, though, that even places like Walmart have begun to stock organic food. Seeing that sort of change is so encouraging.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.