Rethinking my relationship with food.
You know that thing where you try to do something completely different only to realize part of the way through that you’re doing the same thing you’ve always done. Over and over again. And you’re wondering why you can’t come up with different results. Why you keep dating the same guys with those romantic bed eyes and clean Chuck Taylors (not my type but it sounds hot). Or why you say you’re going to try a new restaurant this week, or a new bar, then after 30 mins of reading Yelp reviews decide to head back to the same place on the corner you’ve been to twice in the last month. Well I’m that way with diets. Particularly elimination diets.
If you read my last post, Wellness, a WIP, you’d know I’ve struggled with a host of health issues for quite some time. After making the move to LA, my stress levels peaked and I experienced a big flare up of a lot of the symptoms I thought I had battled into submission years ago. I won’t bore you with the details, but basically I freaked out, went back into the Google blackhole and did whatever I could to feel better again. I started working with another Functional Medicine Practitioner (I’ve worked with several in the past) and after some testing he determined my inflammatory markers were off the charts, my immune system was low, and I had several gut infections which could be contributing to my auto-immune like symptoms.
Just to take a step back, this wasn’t entirely new information. I’d been here several times before. This was that familiar restaurant I keep returning to despite my efforts to try the Ethiopian place on the other side of town. So I did what’s worked for me in the past. I ordered the supplements he prescribed, organized them into little cartons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner like an obedient elderly woman (Grandma K this is not you, I know Amaretto is still your only remedy at 88), and printed off the diet protocol which included eliminating foods that are cross-reactive with gluten. Apparently, even though I thought I haven’t eaten gluten for 100 years, my immune system is still responding to something that it’s identified as gluten, though it’s not technically gluten.
The gluten cross-reactive protocol meant eliminating all grains, corn, eggs (wtf - eggs?!), and dairy. In the last 6 months I had just come off a diet much like this where I ate according to the Paleo guidelines (no grains, beans, dairy, processed sugar, etc.) and was feeling good about reopening the door to some of the foods I really enjoyed until that door caught like a faulty storm door and slammed in my face.
Being an all or nothing kind of gal, I did some of my own research on autoimmune conditions and decided to also try the Auto Immune Protocol (AIP) diet for 6 weeks in addition to this gluten cross reactive list. I listened to podcasts from both patients and practitioners who’ve experienced the healing properties of this diet. I was so excited about the promise of it, I was driving down the 101 (I just declared true LA residency by using the definitive article before a highway name) and pulled up my notes app to type “From WIP to AIP” as the title of my next blog post. Brilliant.
The AIP diet eliminates everything from my previous list but also says no to all nuts and nightshades. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers and are thought to be inflammatory to the gut lining, especially for people with auto immune disease or a leaky gut, which essentially go hand in hand. Tom Brady doesn’t eat them, but he just lost the Super Bowl to the Eagles so maybe he doesn’t have it all figured out like we thought he did. So what does that leave me? Uhhh…not much. What it does do is put me back into food anxiety every time I get invited to go out for a meal, or hop on a plane, or basically stray more than 25 feet from the security of my kitchen.
But if you’ve been unwell before, especially for a very long time, you’ll do anything to feel better. So I buckled down, started the homeopathic herbs to kill the infections and tried my best not to eat breakfast with a bitch face while I longed for runny sunny side up eggs over crispy rosemary potatoes. Well that lasted about a week (maybe 10 days if we’re being generous) until my body said fuck that and went right back into a huge flare up.
Around the same time, I had an old friend come to visit. Not old like Grandma K but old like I’ve known him since I was 15. I struggled to enjoy myself as we ate out and got emotional a few times over my frustration with not feeling well despite my efforts. The thing about old friends though, is that they know you too well. Sometimes, a little better than you know yourself. And inviting them in to have an up close look at your life is like holding up a mirror. More specifically, that magnifying mirror on the other side of a vanity that no one wants to look at because it shows every little pore, wrinkle, and blemish we’d stayed far enough from to avoid seeing.
After a pretty candid conversation, I realized I can’t go down that road again. I’d been there so many times before and that hot guy with the bed eyes isn’t going to miraculously call back in the same way that my body isn’t going to miraculously heal for good with another strict elimination diet. I needed a completely different approach.
So I’m flipping the script and walking away from the food drama. I think a lot of us get stuck in this diet cycle, whether it’s for weight loss or other health concerns, where we find something that works for a period of time but it’s not sustainable. Then the cycle perpetuates because we can’t let go of the fear of returning to our old selves without that diet. So we thrash around trying to eat perfectly and feel guilty every time we “do it wrong” and consume something we consider outside the rules. This cycle contributes to more stress, more self sabotaging behavior to compensate for the guilt, and a hell of a lot of frustration over not being able to heal or keep the weight off. It creates a deep kind of shame. A shame full of self blame for not being disciplined enough or having enough will power to stay within the lines. This only continues to conjugate up all of those negative thoughts we really don’t need crowding our minds and influencing our bodies. Especially when we’re already unwell.
As a result, instead of tightening the reigns on what I eat, I’m getting off the horse and letting it run out into the wild night. Kidding, thats a bit far. I’m continuing to stick to my core principles on eating healthy but I’m shifting my energy away from restriction and redirecting it towards expansion instead.
I decided to start this freedom ride by reworking my food philosophy. I like to call it that because I’m tired of the food religions we’ve constructed in our culture. Being in the nutrition world, it seems everyone is part of a camp whether it be the die hard Paleo people, the Keto evangelists, or the opposite end of the spectrum with the vegetarians and the raw vegans. Don’t get me wrong, I think all of those diets can do absolutely amazing things for our health, but I also know they don’t work for everyone. Every individual is a unique combination of genetics, age, environment, lifestyle, personal goals; the list goes on. I don’t think there’s anyway we can say one diet works for all of humanity. Nutrition isn’t one of those one-size-fits-all T-shirts at Burlington Coat Factory.
So I'm going the cooler hipper route and establishing more of a spirituality based philosophy than a religious practice. So millennial of me, ya know? Instead of designating a list of foods that are strictly off the menu I’m focusing more on what I’m adding in, not what I’m taking away. Elimination diets; ‘I’m done sayin I’m done playin’. (Aubrey Drake Graham circa 2013).
Life by Design Food Philosophy:
10 Guiding Principles for Living and Eating Well
Make vegetables the center of your diet
This is the definition of plant based. Our bodies thrive off vegetables and all those beautiful micronutrients. Strive to make at least 80% of your meal veggies and treat animal protein like a topping you add after.
Follow a template, not a rule book
I’ve found keeping a template of protein, fat, fiber, and greens at every meal works best for me. It provides a guideline, keeps me full and satiated, but leaves it open enough to get creative assembling meals.
Quality is everything
Strive for organic non-gmo plants, grass-fed organic meats, and wild caught seafood whenever possible. This is something I feel very strongly about and will not be loosening the reigns on anytime soon.
Variety is the spice of life, and food
Our bodies thrive off a mix of colorful veggies and a diverse range of foods, not less. We are hardwired for novelty.
Do it your way
Find what works for you, not what worked for Jim on the Keto diet or Melissa as a raw vegan. We all have the intuition to know what’s working for us. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods, or not eating certain foods. For me, despite all the high fat diet talk lately, I’ve found I feel better with more carbohydrates in addition to healthy fats. Specifically fiber in the form of veggies and some grains. That’s what works for my body, it may be completely different for someone else.
Enjoy the craft of cooking
We all have to eat, and I strongly believe we all can learn how to cook at home for ourselves. Cooking should be enjoyable. It should be creative, a time to spend with loved ones, and a self care practice. Like anything in life, it’s about the process.
This has nothing to do with food. Which is exactly why it’s on my list. Move everyday whether it's going for a walk, stretching in your living room, sweating bullets in a hot yoga class, or picking up and putting down heavy things in the gym. Find what works for you and make it something you enjoy. Bonus points for moving outside in nature. It will do wonders for your health, and in return your relationship with food.
Do something creative everyday
We are all creative beings. Our minds are meant to be stretched and challenged. Add creativity back into your life. It can be as small as how you assemble breakfast in morning or working on a side project you enjoy. You might even enjoy it so much, you’ll forget about what’s for dinner.
Have a spiritual connection
I don’t care if you call it the universe, karma, Buddhism, or Judaism. Knowing we are here for a reason and that there is a higher force watching over our wellbeing is healthier than any green juice on the market will ever be.
Love yourself and others
I truly believe our relationship with food, family, friends, and the guy who just cut you off at the intersection all come down to the relationship we have with ourselves. Be kind to yourself and appreciate that we all have dark and light, good and bad. Once you understand that, you can also understand how to love others for who they are. We are all human AF.
You already know.
I’ll close with this. If you haven’t noticed a theme here; find what works for you. Whatever that is, it should be sustainable and enjoyable. There’s so much noise out there about how we should eat. Put the blinders on and reconnect with yourself. You always know what’s best for you. And if you’re having a hard time listening to that voice, I hope you have a (human) mirror.
In the midst of this shift, I came across a cookbook by Seamus Mullen called “Real Food Heals.” The title was enticing because it didn’t pertain to a specific diet, just a return to wholesome real foods as a way of nourishment and healing. Seamus's story resonated with me because he recognizes the significant role nutrition plays in our health but also emphasizes the importance of a healthy lifestyle full of movement, purpose, and loved ones. I decided to put my apron on (much cooler than a chef hat) and create this simple Carrot Hummus, a unique spin on the traditional chickpea hummus. It turned out to be quite photogenic.
Life by Design was born out of a need for my own self-healing after decades of unresolved illness. It wasn’t until finding the courage to look within that I discovered it was my own belief system holding me back from experiencing a truly thriving life. We all have access to that thriving life. We just need to rediscover our power and ignite the healing-self. Only then can we unapologetically live a life by our own design.