Hi there and welcome!
I’m Ariana, and my family loves to eat. My parents were New Yorkers and my mom is of Italian and German descent, so I grew up with food as an outward expression of love and affection (though not the only expression). Obviously “food as love” is a concept that can lead to disordered eating, but in my house it was more like, “this is something I can do to show you how much I care” rather than an excuse for emotional eating or numbing oneself with food.
My mom was one of the original granola moms (literally: she makes her own granola) who never let us have sugar cereals. She had a vitamix back in the 80s (that still works, though she’s upgraded it for a newer model) and she used to grind her own wheat berries for flour and make her own peanut butter (which we thought was “like, totally gross”). A favorite family story is when I went to the neighbors’ house as a 3- or 4-year old and demolished an entire box of store-bought cookies. The neighbor asked my mom what she was feeding us, since I acted like I had never had cookies before. I’m pretty sure they had a good laugh over it, as my mom still chuckles when she tells that story today. My mom is the queen of kitchen gadgets and is fascinated by all things culinary. We grew up processing & canning tomato sauce, applesauce, and jam, and taking regular trips to the famers’ markets (in the 80s and 90s when it was totally uncool.)
My dad was a totally kid-embarrassing organic gardener. Growing up, my parents devoted at least half of our suburban backyard to their own organic garden and still (in their late 60s) spend a huge amount of time in their garden (which is even bigger these days now that they’re living in the country). In the fall, he used to go around in their big commuter van (driving a commuter van into DC where he worked for the government was a way to earn extra money) and collect all the leaves people had bagged and thrown out for the trash collectors and use it as free organic mulch for the garden.
My husband David was a bachelor cook when we met–he lived on frozen pizzas, pakoras and bhajis he could buy at the corner shop, and takeaway curries and chippies (fish & chips or similar quick takeaway meals). The first Christmas we were together I suggested we bake cookies for his family since we didn’t have a lot of money (I was in grad school and he was working at a nightclub) and he’s the oldest of 6 boys. After we made the first batch of eggnog cookies, he looked at me and exclaimed, “it’s just like chemistry!” I didn’t know it then, but his love of cooking (and my luck in having a wonderful amateur chef of a husband) had just begun.
For the past 20 years or so, I have been cooking meals to accommodate a variety of food preferences, allergies, and styles. If food is an expression of love (as my mom taught me), then cooking to accommodate all of our guests was a natural extension of that. My mom never believed in the idea that if people had a special diet it was on them to bring their own food if they couldn’t eat what was being served. Her philosophy was that it wasn’t much effort to pull out some tomato sauce for the vegetarians before adding the meat, so why not do it? Voila: meat sauce and vegetarian sauce (over veggies or g-f pasta for the gluten-free guests).
My body is happiest on a low-carb, primal diet (preferably ketogenic) and I have a history of poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, sugar cravings, fertility issues, and pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes during my 2015 pregnancy. I’ve been overweight most of my life, but I’ve always been healthy as well. My journey toward body-acceptance and self-love has been a long one, but I’ve made the most peace with myself through a mindful-eating approach.
My husband’s digestion has been difficult since moving to the USA from Scotland, and his body prefers a relatively strict paleo approach. My toddler son has a wheat/ gluten intolerance and doesn’t do well with processed dairy except in very small amounts. My dad has high blood pressure and my mom has high cholesterol. My sister hates nuts in food and mustard. (I hate mushrooms.) My brother-in-law and several of my friends are vegetarian, and I have a slew of aunts/ uncles/ cousins who have a number of food allergies, including wheat, dairy, and corn, as well as some friends/ family members who are vegan.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Since I was an infant, my dad’s entire family (he’s the second of 6 children) would gather for a giant feast. My mom cooked Thanksgiving dinner just 2-3 weeks after her third C-section and tubal ligation (i.e. after a major surgery–when she should have been resting!). Normally, we have a minimum of 25-30 people at Thanksgiving and that’s just my dad’s side of the family. My mom’s family is smaller, but my uncle’s mother (my mom’s brother-in-law) owned an Italian restaurant in New York, so holidays there were no smaller. I remember one year that Christmas EVE dinner (as in, the meal BEFORE we all gathered for the ACTUAL Christmas meal) had 7 courses, including vichyssoise and homemade cannoli.
We eat organic, unprocessed, whole foods as much as possible, avoiding GMOs, soy (for its estrogenic properties), grains and legumes (due to antinutrients but also their high carb counts) whenever possible. We’re not fanatical about our diet (except in the case of allergens), but we try to keep it as clean and healthy as possible. We keep in mind the EWG’s Dirty Dozen/ Clean Fifteen when not eating organic or when eating out (i.e. choosing sweet potatoes as a side for our toddler rather than white potatoes).
Besides a long career as a business owner and entrepreneur (man, it makes me feel old to say that!), I have a long history in natural health and healing. My first business was a holistic wellness center and I focused on mind-body wellness. I am a Registered Nurse with a Master’s Degree in Advancing Nursing Practice from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, UK. (Which is where I met my husband.) I have also trained and graduated as an Integrative Nurse Coach (through the International Nurse Coach Association) and a Holistic Health Coach (through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition) where I spent a year studying over 100 different dietary theories. Bottom line: there is no one diet that works for everyone, but the best approach I’ve found is lots of clean water, unprocessed organic foods, and a stress-reducing, mindful lifestyle (since high stress levels can pack on excess weight and prematurely age the body no matter what you’re eating).