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Small and Powerful Steps to Wellness

Small and Powerful Steps to Wellness

Part 2. How We Did It Affordably

My first article How and Why One Family Started provided key learnings for me and my family as we struggled to overcome some serious health challenges. My health was failing due to a profound lack of sleep, Colson, my son, had some possibly life-threatening seasonal allergies (sounds crazy I know) and Ryan, my husband, was a time bomb for a dangerous health event, based on my years of observation, learning and putting the pieces of his family health history together. Looking back I am grateful that we made the life altering changes for our son Colson's sake because I am hopeful that those changes steer Ryan away from his family's health heritage ( his Mom's pancreatic cancer among the many issues).

Genetics amaze me. With the exception of almost destroying myself via too little sleep for about four years after Colson was born, I am a physical rock. Ryan and Colson, however…you can see their troublesome health-related genetics in action through Ryan's family. Fortunately, a genetic predisposition does not mean an adverse health event is guaranteed to happen, and we are doing what we can to ensure our long-term good health by eating well, staying mindful, moving and trying to reduce stress. In short, we are working out epigenetic influences to our advantage. Epigenetics research is showing more and more that our genes are not our destiny and we are influenced by outside factors such as diet, stress and more. (This article presents a quick and accessible discussion of Epigenetics: Is Our Health Determined By Our Genes?)

In addition to Epigentics we keep in mind that there are more bacteria than human cells associated with the human body, and we make food choices aimed at growing the good guys and killing the bad ones. Discover Magazine has a brief slideshow explaining this: Microbiome: Your Body Houses 10x More Bacteria Than Cells.

Ryan, Colson and I are medication-free, which in America is quite an achievement. According to 2013 research by the Mayo Clinic , almost 70 percent of Americans use prescription drugs. CDC data from 2007 - 2008 show that 29.9 percent of kids age 12 - 19 take from one to five prescription drugs a month (that is Colson's age cohort), and in Ryan's and my age cohort (20-59) 48.3 percent have used prescription drugs. Wow.

Regaining health is more costly from a week to week budget perspective than continuing with the Standard American Lifestyle, but over the long haul feeling better and avoiding costly medical treatments with their often nasty side effects has made it worth it for my family.

Food - One of the Costliest Pillars of Wellness

I know that with every bite we eat we determine how we will live. Real food is the basis for Ryan's, Colson's and my health recoveries. Real food, and knowing which real foods we can tolerate and will actually nourish our bodies, is one of the pillars for our wellness. And it can cost a lot…or not!

Strategies for Reducing Food and Other Costs

In keeping with the community theme of the first article in this series, developing a food purchasing community is imperative. Having such a community has helped us greatly reduce food costs by:

  • Preparing homemade food
  • Buying in bulk
  • Learning about food sales
  • Developing relationships with farmers
  • Participating in co-ops

Because of these strategies, my family is able to afford to eat the way we do and purchase low to non-toxic personal care and household products. To learn more about the toxicity of products, take a look at the Environmental Working Group's website.

If you wonder why I did not mention clipping coupons, we do not because there is almost nothing that we buy from the traditional grocery store.


Almost all of our food is homemade. Literally. Right down to the chocolate (made from raw cacao, coconut oil and a dash of maple syrup) that reduces an extended family member's blood glucose levels when his diabetes rears up. In short, we primarily eat meat, veggies, fruit, nuts, eggs, brown lentils, potatoes and occasionally rice. Because the three of us are unique, we have different food needs. Colson and I seem to want more meat than Ryan does, for instance. And some days the craving for veggies, which we do eat every day, is incredibly strong. Because we make our food and ordinarily don't eat processed food (other than rice flour bread for Colson, bacon and certain sausages), our costs are not as significant as you might suspect.

Food Triggers (Adverse Responses)

Before diving into our specific cost reduction strategies, I want to give a few examples of my family's food triggers. Keep in mind that before cleaning up our diets we were unaware of any food triggers, but once our bodies reduced inflammation and detoxified they effectively communicated and guided us, and we have learned to listen. If Ryan goes astray, eating pasteurized dairy or rice or green lentils, for example, his eyes swell up, particularly his left one, and sometimes his face does too. In Colson's case he gets acne if he eats too much sugar. Colson and Ryan have more food triggers (gluten, corn, dairy), which cause Ryan's eyes and face to swell and crippling headaches to swiftly strike, and the headaches can grab Colson too (fortunately he hasn't eaten a food trigger like that in years). Chicken eggs also give Ryan headaches, but duck eggs don't. Corn and wheat cause Colson to snore, and in one corn exposure he experienced crippling abdominal pain. Neither of them tolerates dairy well. In my case, nothing readily identifiable happens other than a little sluggishness if I stray from healing foods and an itchy scalp if I eat chicken eggs.


We keep in mind that there is no one "Right" approach each day or for each person because life is dynamic, placing different demands on us. Perhaps the only universal in my family is that sugar is bad for about a billion reasons, and it is the number one "food" that we avoid.

Here are some of our anti-sugar influences:

This 2014 CBC documentary, The Secrets of Sugar, reports that sugar consumption in the US is now 26 teaspoons a day, up from the 22.6 teaspoons I cite in a post below.

Colson and I took what we learned from the documentary to understand how much sugar is in my favorite ice cream (which I no longer eat). The container pictured below is filled with the amount of sugar identified in the ingredients. Yikes!

Now for the scary stuff - I am not going to sugar coat it:

· This post links to research on reduced lifespan: The Sugar Bandit - How It Robs Your Health .

· My most recent conclusions about foods we avoid: Which Food Devastates Most - Sugar, Wheat or GMOs?

I will get into it more in the next article, but note that Ryan, Colson and I used to have profound sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and it took a little over 30 days to shake those cravings. It isn't a lack of willpower that makes going sugar-free and low carb difficult, but the fact that our bodies had numerous microorganisms that eat sugar and they demanded to be fed, resulting in crazy harsh cravings. We were literally at war with a microscopic, overpopulated army stationed in our bodies. We removed their food (sugar, grains and dairy) and they died. If there was ever a time to keep The Slight Edge in mind, beating back the sugar critters for 30 or so days is it. Each moment of each day was a step toward food freedom, and suddenly we were craving-free.

Cutting Costs

Now for the blow by blow on cutting our costs:

We Eat Less

Because we eat nutrient dense, healing, satiating foods, we eat less. Our bodies get the nutrition they need, we don't have food cravings, and we no longer stress eat. Aside from replacing toxic foods with nourishing foods, the other big game changer that causes us to eat less is our increase in fat consumption: coconut oil, lard, olive oil, butter, and beef tallow. I was always really hungry and ready to eat my arm off during my low-fat food days, and eventually my willpower broke and I dove into some Ben and Jerry's ice cream. But not anymore - I could care less about ice cream thanks to our increased healthy fat consumption.

Purchasing Beef by the Quarter

Highest quality, grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free ground beef from the health food store, for example, can cost $9 a pound. And forget about a steak, which can cost over $20 a pound. Because I purchase a quarter of a steer from a local farmer, my cost is $5.30 a pound for all cuts and I have so much flexibility for meal planning due to the abundance of cuts. In addition, I get a great big bunch of bones from which to make bone broth , which is a staple in our diet and stretches our food.

There have been times when I couldn't afford to purchase a quarter of a cow (Ryan's multiple lay-offs starting in 2007 forced us down that path). At that time I found some friends and split a quarter. (see: Stressful Times and Eating Healthy .).

Regarding having enough freezer space, a relatively affordable chest freezer can be purchased, and the savings in reduced meat expenses more than compensates for the cost of the freezer. Another option is FreeCycle, from which we received a stunningly great early 1970s upright freezer. This old beast of an appliance has been with us for over eight years, works perfectly and has never been repaired by us or the original owners.

I know that even with these cost saving measures that grass-fed, clean meats have been out of reach for some of my friends. When they ask me my opinion about how to make their food budget work, I tell them to do their best - that is all they can do - and be fine with that. The only meat that seriously concerns me from a health perspective is massively produced grocery store ground beef, which can come from multiple countries, is untraceable because of the helter skelter way it is processed and can lead to significant outbreaks of foodborne illnesses (see Another Hamburger Scare ). If you do an Internet search for "Ground Beef Illness" you will find many more recalls since I wrote the Hamburger Scare blog post.


Similar to beef, I purchase either a half or a whole pig at a time, depending on the size. Because I really know my pork and beef farmers, I know the food quality is excellent ( and I learned the hard way ). The animals are on pasture, hormone-free (neither pigs nor chickens are administered hormones - only cows and sheep are), antibiotic-free and GMO-free.


I haven't found a bulk purchasing solution for chicken, but one $5.50 a pound, three-plus pound gmo-free, antibiotic-free, free-range chicken can go a long way by the time I turn it into soup. Putting the meat in a lentil soup can make about 15 meals (see Roman Lentil Soup - I use three cups of lentils instead of 2, add the chicken meat, and add shredded cabbage). Because I am Lebanese, I also like it this way: Lebanese Lentil Soup. Note that we make our own soup broth with the bones from a chicken (simmer about 12 hours) or a cow (simmer 48+ hours). I do add cabbage to almost every soup I make - it is an amazing food. Homemade sauerkraut is another great cabbage addition to these soups for both taste and health (see A Diet High In Cabbage May Help Prevent Breast Cancer.) I have used both the Weston A. Price recipe and the Pickl-It (I have no affiliation with this product) recipe for making sauerkraut. The Pickl-It is great, but I learned of a cheaper way yet, using just mason jars and fermentation jar lids (you will see there are many types of lids if you do an Internet search).

Bone Broth

My rule of thumb is to add broth whenever water is called for in a recipe, provided it isn't a disgusting idea. For example, I wouldn't use broth in coconut flour muffins, but I would use it for cooking rice. Enthralled with broth, I started examining it amino acid by amino acid. Here is just one of a number of blog posts I have written: Broth - Cysteine and Glutathione: Pure, Potent Healing Power . To read more you can type "Broth" into the search tool on my blog . Here is another compelling broth post that is not part of the amino acid posts: Visual Proof That Food Heals .

Nut Flours and Coconut Oil

Because we tossed gluten and grains to the curb we turned to nuts and nut flours to bridge the gap. At first we ate quite a bit, but once we hit our groove and our food cravings were banished, our consumption declined.

I purchase coconut flour and coconut oil from Tropical Traditions on monthly free shipping day. Regarding coconut oil, I am a member of the Tropical Traditions Healthy Buyers Club and purchase five gallons at a time. My cost is only $26 a gallon, which is unbeatable. If I have friends who are crunched for funds, I share my five gallons with them. (I do not have any affiliation with Tropical Traditions or the other product providers below.)

I purchase almond flour from Honeyville Food Products. I buy it in five pound packages, but when times were tight during the layoffs, I joined with others and shared 25 pound packages to reduce cost further.

Between coconut and almond flours, I find that coconut flour is healthier for my family. See Realizations About "Healthy" Sweeteners and Flours .

If you want to see how I use nut flours, some of the recipes that I use are on my blog. Note that I haven't updated these recipes in years and I use half or less of the honey that is called for in my preferred recipes.


When berries are in season we pick pounds upon pounds and freeze them. This is so much cheaper than purchasing them frozen from the store. See Blueberry and Blackberry Seasons are Here! for recipes and excitement in general. They are great in nut flour baked goods, smoothies, and more.


Yum…and not enough of it in our diets. This is a costly item. I never purchase farmed seafood, only wild caught and primarily salmon. I abhor being a Whole Foods shopper for many reasons, but they do have their purposes, one of which is a good salmon sale. Three or four times a year, wild caught salmon is on sale for $8.99 a pound (usual price is $17 a pound), and I buy enough to freeze and feed all three of us for 10 - 12 meals (30-36 meals total). For friends who do not have a Whole Foods nearby and who have to be cost conscious, the options are obviously greatly restricted. For those who are not bound by cost, U.S. Wellness Meats is a decent source. I was concerned about mercury in fish, but that was put to rest after doing a little research: Fish, Selenium and Methylmercury - Yippee!

Vegetables and Fruit

Local farmers markets in my area are comparable to grocery store prices for organic vegetables, but the market can be cheaper than the store for conventionally grown produce. When times are tight, I purchase organic foods selectively, and I turn to the Environmental Working Group to keep up to date on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

I purchase some foods in bulk, like oranges and grapefruits. Our farmers market has a wholesale barn, and I can purchase a 40 pound case of oranges or grapefruits for $25. I purchase apples from a local farmer who claims to use minimal chemicals for $25 a case as well. With a 12 year old tank of a kid, we really do eat all of this food, but when he was younger I would split these purchases with friends.

Olive Oil

I did not know what a decadent olive oil was until about four years ago when I discovered Chaffin Family Orchards' olive oil. I will buy "Olive Oil Futures" from them in the Fall at a discount and get two gallons of the most delicious olive oil in the winter. The cost is less than the supposedly good olives oils at the health food store, and the taste is superior. If you are interested in learning about how many olive oils are adulterated and about my conversation with the Chaffin Family Orchards farmer, read this post: Olive Oil - Important Things I Never Knew and What to Do About Them .

Frontier Wholesale Co-op

The Frontier Wholesale Co-op helps many people to accelerate their healing journeys by making food, cleaning, and health care products available at the most affordable prices I have found. The Co-op is critical for maintaining my family's budget and maintaining our healing, relatively non-toxic lifestyle. I have not seen another business that serves people in the same way - we have been grateful customers for nine years.

Raw Food World

Raw Food World is an on-line food source where I purchase specialty items like Coconut Aminos (a soy sauce replacement) at half the cost as the grocery store. I check their monthly "At Cost Specials" for deals.

Baking Soda

There almost is too much to say about baking soda. It can replace shampoos, which were too expensive for my family when Ryan was laid off (see The No 'Poo Method), we use it in deodorant (see Homemade Deodorant - Easy and It Works (Really) ), and I clean with it. Twenty-five pounds runs about $35 and will last a really long time.


People often complain about the rising cost of food. Because my family buys food from small, sustainable farmers, our cost has been higher but stable compared to most people's. We haven't experienced the increased costs that are bringing conventional foods into closer cost alignment with ours. One of my egg farmers, for example, grows his own feed so he isn't held hostage by drought and rising feed costs, and his customers don't experience price changes. My beef and pork farmers rely on their pastures and don't purchase feed, so again we are relatively immune from increasing prices. Further, because there are very few restaurants that use the types of ingredients we use and that are affordable, we eat out as a family only once or twice a year, saving us money. Ryan or Colson and I may be forced to catch lunch or a snack from Whole Foods on the fly (Colson homeschools so we are on the go quite a bit), but usually we have enough food packed to last us through the day. I just can't stand spending money for an inferior food product that doesn't taste as good as our home cooked food. It am astonished that in 2013 the average American spent $1,000 eating out for lunch alone. For my family that would be a $3,000 chunk out of our budget, and this easily covers the cost of sustainable, clean food.

I figure that what we may pay in slightly higher costs now is worth it later. As I stated above, we aren't on any medications thanks to our food. That makes our food costs more than worth it.

If all of this information seems overwhelming, take it one small step at a time, or Slight Edge it, as we say in my family. If you have questions about this article or would like to hear about specific parts of my family's journey in the third part of this series, feel free to email me at and I may be able to address your questions. The third article will discuss how we banished food cravings, Hormesis, The Four Agreements, and how we choose our health care practitioners. You can learn more about us here: Thank you for reading.