Note from Emma: I’m so excited to announce the second Generation Real Food Interview here at Real Food Renegades! Switching to a real food lifestyle provides lasting health and nourishment, but it can seem daunting at first, especially as a young person or a family with children. The truth is that there is no one diet that will work for everyone – it’s all about finding what works best for you. Our goal with this series is to encourage you in your journey, promote a holistic, balanced lifestyle, and show that though we may seem hidden, there are lots of young people like us hoping to inspire change in our own lives and the greater community!
There are some people you meet who are pure light – Maris Degener is one of them. She is wise beyond her eighteen years and lives authentically by spreading her message through her Instagram and writings on her blog. I must admit that am a very avid reader of Maris’s blog and have read almost all her posts – they have a way of coming to me just as I need to hear them. Maris and I both love real food and bonded over our shared mission to be advocates for a positive, nourishing lifestyle for both the body and mind! I am honoured to be collaborating with Maris on her newsletter, where I’ll be providing easy, seasonal real food recipes that are perfect for busy students and time-restricted businesspeople who want to nourish their bodies. Sign up for Maris’s newsletter here! I appreciate the effort Maris puts into her newsletters, as they are always insightful and helpful in some way.
1. Tell us about yourself and your lifestyle!
My name is Maris Degener, and I’m an 18 year old yoga teacher, writer, real food lover, and recent college freshman. After struggling with an eating disorder that threatened my life for the majority of my adolescence, I finally was able to heal myself through the power of yoga and real food. I live a lifestyle centered around nourishment and abundance; I’m constantly seeking new ways to improve not just my physical health, but my mental, emotional, and spiritual health as well. I’m passionate about helping other young people nourish their bodies and minds with healthy movement, real food, and authentic speech.
2. How do you define “real food”? What does it look like for you?
“Real food,” to me, is food that supports not just our physical health, but our psychological health as well. That means choosing foods that nourish our bodies and keep us strong and ready to play, as well as foods that don’t promote an unhealthy emotional response such as shame, guilt, or intense cravings. This means it’s going to look a little different for everyone! I strongly believe that there is no such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods.” I think when you start with wholesome ingredients, make mindful choices about the foods you include on your plate, and give yourself the gift of choice, you’ll naturally find health and happiness.
3. How did you discover the “real food” way of eating?
In recovering from my eating disorder, I was in a form of treatment where I had no say in what I ate, when I ate, or how I ate. I had no connection to where my food came from or how it was prepared, and it made it extremely difficult to have a positive eating (and ultimately, healing) experience. I read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” because, as a former vegan, I only knew “healthy” in terms of veganism, which ended up making me sicker. Pollan’s balanced approach that acknowledged not only the macronutrient and micronutrient makeup of foods, but also their cultural and emotional significance, sparked in me a thirst to know more. From there, I found “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, which helped me navigate my personal intolerances and sensitivities to create a way of eating that works for me.
4. Was it difficult to change your diet?
I think “changing your diet” is a lifelong process. I’m constantly evaluating how things make me feel, and constantly seeking to expand the types of foods I eat and ways that I prepare and enjoy them. In that sense, it has become very natural to me, and I’m lucky that I was generally raised on “real foods”- home cooked meals and very minimal processed junk. I never had the dependence on sugar or soda that many, many people deal with, and that kind of dependence is a very real psychological phenomenon that is difficult to overcome.
5. What benefits have you noticed from getting back to basics and eating fresh, whole foods?
I have lots of energy to do the things I love- yoga, lifting, hiking, generally enjoying the outdoors- while still being able to have to capacity for teaching, studying, and running my blog and social media. The eczema I struggled with as a kid is completely gone, I’ve improved my muscle and bone mass which was critically low at the height of my disorder, and I have very healthy skin. I also have seen vast improvements in my sleep, anxiety, and depression since prioritizing my health.
6. What are some staples that are must-haves for you?
If you know me, you know I love sweet potatoes. I eat them just about everyday because they are so simple and delicious, and provide me with the carbohydrates I need to stay active. My absolute favorite way to enjoy them is roasted in coconut oil, but as I’m currently living in the dorms, I’ve learned to enjoy them steamed in the microwave, too.
7. Do you have any advice for young people (or anyone, really!) for thriving on a real foods lifestyle?
I want people to be aware that the connection between what you put on your plate and how you feel in your body is very, very real. You can change your health and your life through real foods and healthy movement. Once you harness control of your health, you’ll find that you’re empowered to tackle other aspects of your life, too: your career, your relationships, your passion, and more.
Are you a young person living a real foods lifestyle? Has your family (including the kids!) transitioned to eating real food? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your journey! I’d love to have you.