What happened in Spain, besides walking about 18 miles a day, was that I started to eat minimally processed food with natural ingredients.
It wasn't always healthy food--many a plate of Spanish French fries disappeared in front of me after a long day on the Camino. But I began to eat dried apricots and figs, which have no added sugar, as snacks. Dinners usually consisted of whatever ingredients were available at the market that day--large salads or egg and vegetable concoctions. Instead of having a low-fat salad dressing option, I used only oil and vinegar. I ate pure chocolate, homemade baguettes, and local cheeses, fresh garlic, tomato and avocado. I also drank about 100 oz. of water a day, and had coffee with whole milk and sugar, rather than skim milk and Splenda. The recurring theme here was that everything wasn't necessarily considered healthy, but it was almost all natural.
The contrast between my Camino diet and my American diet was clear and strong upon my return. I was faced with heavily processed foods. We went out to eat at restaurants whose kitchens were full of preservatives and artificial additives. I was offered heavy desserts. Overall I was aware of how many more chemicals I was putting into my body, even when I thought I was eating healthfully. To avoid these foods completely, I realized in dismay, would mean social isolation in the culinary scene. Did I have a choice?
In the fall, feeling "sick with America," as I came to call it, I began making small changes to my diet. Instead of having a pastry in the morning at work, I drank an Odwalla smoothie on the way to work. I immediately began feeling better in the morning. I was less sluggish and my appetite held until lunch.
Sometimes Odwalla smoothies were on sale at the Whole Foods store near school, and so I would stop by there to load up on the smoothies before the work week. At first I scoffed at the Whole Foods merchandise--overpriced shopping baskets woven out of hemp, vegetable products made to look like meats, even organic cotton bras--but all the while I noticed the general Whole Foods shopping population was cleaner and leaner than your average Atlantan.
Could there really be something to this natural eating thing? I looked at the smoothies in my basket, my fuel for each morning, thought back to the Camino, and looked at the glowing skin and hair sailing by me in the Whole Foods aisles.
I decided it was time for a change.