The Most Important Thing

by Donna Reagan

The year was 1993, the place--Pulaski, Tennessee.

I had recovered from a hard season of performing: first as Aunt Eller in a theatrical production of "Oklahoma!", and then as a featured soloist, as well as several guest performances in various Christmas musical programs.

Spring was in the air and I felt a little more in control of my life, but I was looking for a way to achieve and maintain more of a balance in my life.

I had gotten to know several people really well during "Oklahoma!", and had continued friendships with several of them. One of the cast, a fine actor and a fantastic dancer, was one of those people.

During a conversation with him one afternoon, I mentioned that I had been thinking about going back to being a vegetarian for the purpose of living in a more peaceful manner. He suggested that I try Macrobiotics.

I mentioned that I wasn't sure about the wisdom of that approach. I recalled reading in the 1970's about young people who were Macrobiotic--they ate only brown rice and they died.

He explained that Macrobiotics was not like that, and he retrieved a copy of "Kamikaze Cowboy" by Dirk Benedict from his bookcase. Handing it to me, he suggested that I read the book and then we would discuss it.

Once I began reading, I could hardly put it down.

In the book Mr. Benedict described his life before he began Macrobiotics, the health crisis that brought about his strict adherence to a healing Macrobiotic approach, how that approach healed his condition and the difference it has made in his life.

"Wow," I thought, "If Macrobiotics works so well for someone who was so sick, it should be really great for someone who isn't sick."

My friend and I discussed my findings and he suggested other books for further reading to help me get started: "Macrobiotics and You" by Michio Kushi, "The Four Seasons Cookbook" by Aveline Kushi, "Making the Transition to a Macrobiotic Diet," and "Macrobiotic Healing from Head to Toe" by Herman and Cornelia Aihara.

I rushed down to a local health store and ordered them all. While there I found another book, "Healing Miracles from Macrobiotics."

Immediately I began to read that book and each of the others as they arrived. I then went to my kitchen and began removing from its shelves everything that I was not going to need: white flour, white and brown sugars, shortening and canned foods.

Then I started in on the refrigerator: margarine, milk, eggs (goodbye, dear eggs), hot dogs, etc. I found someone to give all this to, then went back to the health store for brown rice and tamari sauce. Then I made a trip to the grocery store for fresh vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts.

I followed new recipes and used foods with strange-sounding names in addition to good, fresh vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and fruits. I was eating good food which I was actually finding time in my busy life to prepare. This was great! I learned to enjoy simple, low-fat foods that didn't really take a whole lot of time to prepare.

What happened as a result was amazing. Within two weeks I could climb up and down stairs with ease. My tendonitis and arthritis seemed to disappear. I was euphoric!

Then I noticed that some of my clothing seemed looser. One day I put on pants and a T-shirt only to find that they were way too big. Other people began to notice. I couldn't go anywhere in this small town with out being asked about my weight-loss program. It was embarrassing! I didn't intend to lose weight--I only wanted to be as healthy as it was possible for me to be.

Before I knew it I had lost 30, then 40 pounds. I began to tell inquirers that maybe they just needed new glasses, or that it had just been awhile since they had seen me, or that I was trying the new "baggy look" in clothing. I even went so far as to tell one woman that my clothing was looser because of "reverse shrinkage."

By Thanksgiving the lady at the health store was trying to sell me teas and pills for weight loss! I told her I didn't believe in them and didn't need them.

She then tried to sell me some slimy looking fungi that was supposed to increase my energy. Increase my energy! Why, I was bouncing around town already! And, sorry, but I don't do slime!

During the next year I dropped more weight. Altogether I lost 75 pounds, then gained 15 and stabilized. Today I am 60 pounds lighter than I was and I'm healthier.

I no longer have allergic reactions in the spring and fall that were so severe I often developed anything from pharyngitis to pneumonia (one year I had it 3 times). Nowadays, I might experience comparatively mild allergic reactions for a few days in the spring and fall.

People comment on how clear and pretty my complexion is (I don't wear make-up unless I'm performing). Since 1993 I have noticed that moles and skin tags have been lightening and shrinking; many have disappeared altogether.

This summer, while working in the yard, I got a major case of poison ivy. The main problem was my face--over 30% was affected. I adhered to a strict healing macro diet, and used both OTC remedies to control itching and a macro remedy-- tea bags (very soothing).

Well, the poison ivy was gone in less than a week! A friend who is a nurse was amazed. In the past it has taken at least a month for me to recover from poison ivy.

Other ailments seem to have bypassed me as well--I haven't had a cold in 5 years and the flu virus has not seen fit to take up residence either. Someone made the comment, "What she eats sure must be doing her good because she just bounces around town."

It's true that no one is an island and that others are touched or at least influenced by what we do. Whenever I go to the grocery people watch what I buy and ask me about the way I'm eating.

Some people treat me like the "food police", and try to shield their baskets from me. I have educated more than one grocery check-out clerk about the store's produce section. And I am refered to as "that lady that eats healthy." I have passed more than one homemaker (some married to physicians) with their carts loaded down with processed and junk "food." I smile as they sheepishly look from my cart to theirs and say, "I don't have time to cook like you do."

I've got to tell you what a lame excuse I consider that to be!

When I started Macrobiotics I worked 40 hours a week at one job, 20 hours a week at another, and told stories down at the public library for an hour a week. I now work a 40 hour week, run the children's program at the county library, teach G.E.D. classes twice a week, practice and sing with a church choir, put on workshops to educate people about domestic violence, do workshops for teachers on storytelling and music, entertain kids with special programs in schools, write and edit a college newsletter, teach cooking classes, and do a play if it is convenient.

I have to wonder how much more these full-time homemakers do that they can't manage to cook for themselves and their families!

Recently, I went on our local talk radio show to discuss an upcoming Regional Arts Council project. I spent half the time answering the host's questions about Macrobiotics. I closed that segment of the show by stating that I don't know if I will be able to avoid the "Big 3" (cancer, heart disease and diabetes) which seem to be "programmed" into my family's genes, but I do hope to stack the cards in my favor so that I have at least a 50/50 chance of avoiding or slowing their progress.

But beyond trying to avoid the diseases of modern dying, I enjoy Macrobiotic eating for the simplicity of natural foods and the pleasure I get from providing this big, beautiful body with the balanced nutrition it deserves.

Of all that I do, taking care of myself in the most important thing.

Donna Reagan makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she is active in her work and community. She finds time to teach Macrobiotic cooking classes, and practices Reiki in addition to her work. She often performs as a storyteller and singer, and enjoys doing musical theatre productions.