Discovering the World Through People

by

by Al Sturgeon
(published every Monday in Desperate Houseflies)

ALIA MARTIN: MACROBIOTICS

Alia Martin is a beautiful young mother of two with a charming personality. She is noticeably intelligent, but her unpretentious approach to life leads her to fit in happily with a wide variety of people. When it comes to the mundane task of fixing dinner for her family, however, Alia’s life is anything but typical. Recently, Alia agreed to share with me the concepts behind her macrobiotic lifestyle, the challenges she and her family face as they practice it, and the personal tragedy that led to her unwavering devotion.

DH: For all of us novices, give us a basic overview of “macrobiotics.”
AM: The word macrobiotics actually means “big or long life.” This is actually a way of life with a strong emphasis on diet. Many people think that because people say they are macrobiotic they live a restrictive life, denying themselves many things others thrive on. This idea is false. The simple answer to your question is that this a diet consisting of whole grains, vegetables, beans and bean products (I swear tofu is yummy!), sea vegetables (think sushi or something like that), fish, nuts, fruits, etc. We tend to eat little or no dairy, meat, or refined sugars. But even this limits the idea of macrobiotics because what it really focuses on is understanding what you put in your body and the effect it has on you. You can actually eat dairy, meat, etc., but there is a knowledge of what is in your food and what it does to you. It is really fascinating to read about what is done to things most people call food, and once you start researching you might change your definition of the word food. And don’t worry, I am at peace with the fact that I might eat this way to be healthy and I could still die in a car crash tomorrow without having eaten cake in three years!

DH: Isn’t macrobiotics popular among some celebrities?
AM: Macrobiotics is becoming more and more popular in various groups. One group is celebrities. With beautiful people like Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman choosing the macro lifestyle, who wouldn’t want to jump on the bandwagon? But another (possibly stronger) group is cancer patients. Many people are finding that chemo and radiation are simply not going to save them in most cases. Their cancer goes into recession only to come back again or they die of heart-related problems due to the effects from the treatment. And many find that the medicine is sometimes worse that the actual disease. Many people find huge success changing to the macro way of life. I have personally seen many people who have had terminal cases of various diseases live long, prosperous, disease-free lives after switching over.

DH: I know there are a lot of misconceptions about what you do. What are some of the biggest?
AM: One of the big ones is, as I’ve already mentioned, that you can’t eat certain foods. No foods are taboo in macrobiotics. It is actually more about moderation that abstinence. Another misconception is that to do this diet you have to give up every food you like and be completely miserable. This is actually funny to me because the food is actually wonderful. It is hard at first though because in this country we are used to keeping ourselves revved up with sugar and caffeine, so there are withdrawals from these things. But if you are craving meat so badly that you can’t think of anything else, go eat a steak. People tend to think that everything is all or nothing, and deprivation is not macrobiotics.

DH: What was it that led you to such a strong belief in this whole idea?
AM: As mentioned before, macrobiotics is popular with those who are sick. We found macrobiotics about five years ago when my little sister (then sixteen) was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, which is the fastest growing brain tumor there is. Because of her age she was forced to do chemo and radiation, and because she was doing macro at the time, she had no side effects from either. Strangely enough, because she wasn’t burning, losing hair, or gaining weight, they began to doubt that she was even getting radiation. But when everyone else using the machine had side effects, they just couldn’t understand why radiation directly to the brain wasn’t causing any damage. When she finished these treatments, she focused solely on macrobiotics because the doctors could do nothing for her. After a few months of macrobiotics and no medical intervention her cancer had done what the doctors said was impossible – it shrank 60%. The doctors still refused to believe that this could happen from diet alone and put her in a test group for a medicine that they were researching. Unfortunately everyone in the study died, including my sister. But after it was over one of her doctors said that modern medicine had killed her and apologized to my mother, telling her that soon medicine would have to move more towards dietary adjustment to really make an impact on diseases. That was a great victory I think. Maybe more people can be saved because of this doctor.

DH: I know people say things that have to make you mad. Here’s where you can let it all out. What is it that people say that really gets under your skin?
AM: Not much can anger me. People joking about me eating grass or rabbit food or any of that doesn’t affect me. But the only thing that gets to me is when people who don’t really understand what macrobiotics is about talk about my abilities as a mother because I feed my children this way. My children have never been sick, other than the occasional cold. No bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. that everyone else seems to pick up. But still people want to judge me because I don’t keep my kids happy and hyper with sugars and other foods. That’s about the only thing that gets me, but I try to stay calm about it because most people don’t know how what they eat affects them. Plus, my kids love the sweets and other foods and don’t know any difference in the way they eat because they’ve never been brought up eating junk food and fast food.

DH: What’s a typical food day like at the Martin house?
AM: Most of our food is traditional southern cooking, minus the lard and meat. We eat lots of rice, fresh cooked veggies, beans, and all of that. Today for lunch we had brown rice, gravy, cornbread casserole, black bean salad, broccoli, and turnip greens. Some of my favorite foods are hummus, sushi, cornbread casserole, and any desserts of course.

DH: What are some of the greatest challenges you face?
AM: Most of the problems I encounter come from others not agreeing with my dietary choices. When you first start this, it can be hard to know what to eat, but you get used to it. Now we live pretty normally compared to everyone else. We go out to eat with others and have people over to eat. It’s all about choices. Now, I can see some challenges up ahead when our kids get older and want to experiment with food. But my husband and I know that just as we got to experiment and make our own choices, our children will have to do the same.

DH: How does all this work with kids?
AM: Macrobiotics works great with kids. My oldest, Jolee, who is two, loves the food and doesn’t know that others eat differently. If you asked her at any time of the day what she wants to eat she always says “rice and beans.” The only thing about kids is that they need lots less salt and a lot more sweet, so the cooking is modified a little for them. They get more grain sweeteners and desserts and fruits.

DH: If someone out there were interested in pursuing a macrobiotic lifestyle, how would they go about it? Do they do it (pardon the pun) cold turkey? Or, is it best to change gradually?
AM: Unless someone has a serious illness I would never suggest going “cold turkey.” When people try to cut everything out too fast they almost always go back to their old way of eating. That is exactly why fad diets don’t work and why macrobiotics is a lifestyle. not really a diet. I usually suggest cutting things slowly out of your diet. Maybe men start with cutting out dairy or sugar first (because it’s usually harder for men to cut out the meat) and women starting with meat first (because they usually have a harder time on the dairy and sugar – think chocolate!). I do usually suggest totally cutting these three things out of your diet for a while because after a while if you start adding a little of them back you can really notice what it does to your body. For example, if you totally cut dairy out for about three months and then eat cheese or ice cream, you really notice how quickly your sinuses get clogged. Interesting things like that happen when you totally get rid of them for a while. But, to get back to the question, unless you are sick, I really suggest going slowly on changing your diet.

DH: Where would someone go if they were interested in more information?
AM: There is tons of info online. There are also many macrobiotic schools. The one I went to was the Kushi Institute in Beckett, Massachusetts. Also, many, many books have been written on macrobiotics. Most of them are on amazon.com and half.com. Also, I have tons of information myself. Here are a few book recommendations for those interested: Sugar Blues by William Dufty, any book by Michio Kushi, Healthy Life Kitchen by Marilu Henner, and What Would Jesus Eat by Don Colbert, MD

Note: This weekly column will introduce you to all kinds of people. I’m open to chasing down as best I can all sorts of folks who can shed some light on any type of profession, hobby, lifestyle, cause, interest, or question that you may be interested in – so I welcome your suggestions.

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3 Responses to “Discovering the World Through People”

  1. Jody Says:

    Alia,
    Thanks for taking the time to educate us on your lifestyle. I must admit that I am one of those who has passed judgement on the health of the children. I always appreciate how open you are to talk with people about the diet and lifestyle without pushing your opinions on others, we should work harder to show you the same respect. In the defense of me and those like me, I think it is truly a concern that centers around what we have been taught is a “normal diet” for a child. I know Jolee being so small was my concern, but who could argue that there is not a happy and energetic child in that tiny frame. Maybe some of those in your daily life will read this article and see that you are knowledgable in your lifestyle and willing to discuss it with others. I also know that you are a wonderful Christian mother that would do anything she could to protect her children. I hope to be slower to judge and quicker to support those who are not “like me” as I grow as a person and as a Christian.
    One last note: It has not been quite three years since your last piece of cake (I was a witness)!

  2. aliasheea Says:

    Thank you Jody. I appreciate your honesty and must admit that it has not quite been three years since the cake incident. But that mouthful of icing meant nothing! 🙂 Also, for any who are wondering, my children just went to the pediatrician today and are doing beautifully. I hope anyone with any questions won’t hesitate to ask.

  3. JD Says:

    Alia, I just love you and Steve! Love your energy, love your beautiful daughters, love your devotion to God … I love Steve’s off-the-wall phone calls. I love eating with Steve and giving him my rice and beans at the Mexican restaurant. BUT I can’t believe Al did not insist on a couple of recipies … cornbread casserole, for instance… or that sesame crusted salmon I’ve heard about. Great interview!

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