A Happy Accident: How Gardening and Eating Local Inspired a Healthy Lifestyle

When our family started eating locally grown foods last year, the decision was only a little bit about health. Honestly, I find Barbara Kingsolver pretty damn inspiring, so by the time I finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I knew I had to try to eat like she did for at least a month.

I was excited about how eating this way would allow us more control over our environmental impact. We’d be able to choose to purchase from stores and farms whose values were in line with our own. I was also excited to enjoy the incomparable flavors of fresh vegetables and fruits in their natural seasons. I also just wanted to prove we could do it, because let’s face it: I’m pretty competitive.

I knew that a diet based more heavily in rich, colorful plant foods would mean that we’d get more critical nutrients. And I knew cutting out processed foods was a positive life decision. But honestly, I just wasn’t focused on the health benefits very much. I thought I might lose a couple pounds (because I wasn’t sure what exactly we were going to eat), but I didn’t expect what came next.

Over the past year, I have lost ten pounds just from the lifestyle change of eating mostly locally produced foods and gardening to grow a lot of our food right in our backyard (make no mistake, though: I am not perfect and have been known to eat avocados and chocolate and coffee, which sadly, do not grow here). I know ten pounds isn’t an incredible amount of weight over the course of a year, but when it’s purely a side effect of just living your life, it’s pretty damn exciting.

And there are so many other far more amazing health benefits than the weight: my skin is clearer, I get fewer headaches, I think more clearly, and I have more energy at 30 than I have since high school.

In fact, I have so much more energy that I have finally started on a path to get into good enough shape to keep up with my kids. I’m convinced the foods I eat and the strength I gained in the garden are the reasons I even entertained the idea of group personal training classes and teaching myself to run a 5k (both of which I’m loving, by the way).

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because I think so many of us (my former self included) feel like the only way to get healthy is to follow a fad diet, hire a personal trainer to work you to your max, or count calories in excel spreadsheets. I used to be an avid calorie counter. I lost over sixty pounds counting calories several years ago and unfortunately gained it all back when my life got busy and I couldn’t find the time to dedicate to adding everything up consistently.

But what I’m learning is that none of those things are a requirement to live a healthier life. In fact, knowing what I know now, I’d argue that, in this case, the simpler path is the better one. We made a lifestyle change when we decided to grocery shop more frequently because the foods we buy are more perishable and less processed. We made a lifestyle change when we purchased less meat because sustainable meat is (rightfully) more expensive and doesn’t always fit in our budget. We made a lifestyle change when we planted a garden that needs us to get off the couch.

I’m confident that these changes we’ve made are sustainable and will lead to consistently healthier lives for our family. And for that, I am thankful.

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