Okay first! When I say “diet”, I very much mean “a way of eating”, and NOT “a way of eating to lose weight“. Yes? Important difference. So with that said, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve spent the past nine months engaged in a series of experiments: a set of proofs and challenges leading to a catalogue of responses and eventually, to results. I’ve kept this to myself for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my concern that people may take my own experience as a some sort of prescriptive advice. Which is really not my intention.
But, I think this journey has been pretty interesting, and I’ve learned a whole lot, and ultimately, I’ve been able to take myself from a piss-poor state, to a really amazing place. Maybe others will find solace in my story? I hope so.
But first, some background.
My Relationship With Food
I have never had an eating disorder. However, I also haven’t always had an easy relationship with food, and I think that at times my behavior could have been considered borderline “disordered”.
I’m not any kind of -rexic and I only ever made myself puke one time, when I was 17, and that was way more about drama than it was about food. What I can be is an emotional eater, though I’m not convinced that “emotional eating” is, by definition, always unhealthy. For example when I quit smoking, I made the completely conscious decision to use food as a coping mechanism (quitting was incredibly emotional and very stressful for me). I went into that situation with my eyes wide open, and I used food as a tool . . . and it worked! I’m really not so sure that I would have been able to quit smoking otherwise (at least not with my lifestyle/relationships in tact). So part of me feels like there is a place for mindful emotional eating, though I’m certainly no expert on the subject.
To be clear, I’m not talking about full-on stress-induced indiscriminate binging, which is unhealthy under any circumstances. And in those situations there seems to be a physiological, as well as a psychological, component. I know that in my own experience it’s always a combination of the two, but seems predominantly driven by an actual physical response (more on that later). But when I say that emotional eating may not be unhealthy, I’m not referring to binging. I’m talking about . . . getting to the end of a very long, very hard day, and thinking “I would really love to curl up with a cookie and a cup of cocoa”, and then being comforted by doing it. Is that inherently unhealthy? Your thoughts?
Why The Experiments?
After Waits was born my wellness took a nose dive. A few weeks after giving birth, I had developed an internal Candida (yeast) infection, my hormones were all over the place, my moods were up and down, and I was tired all the time. A lot of this is typical “new mom” stuff, but everything was exacerbated – and rooted in – what I knew was a problem with the way I was eating. I was plagued by a cycle of blood sugar spikes and crashes (physiological), seemingly out of my control, which wreaked havoc on my emotional stability (psychological). I was quickly reaching a breaking point.
As all this was happening, I was saturating myself nutrition literature, and I quickly learned of the contradictions and inconsistency that run rampant in the health world. Was I suffering from a sluggish thyroid? Metabolic disorder? Gluten allergy? Adrenal fatigue? No one agreed on anything! And even if they did, they couldn’t agree on the cause, and they wouldn’t agree on a treatment!
That’s when I decided to take matters into my own hands. Drawing on all my research, cutting and pasting theories to create a general framework, I pieced together my own mish-mash of an agenda. The new year seemed as good a time as any, so on January 1st, I began my testing.
Why I Didn’t Blog It
Honestly? I was worried about being judged. I worry the same way about posting my food journals (WIAW). I mean, I know what’s going on in my head and I know that I’m alright, but I also know that people perceive things in wildly different ways. Do people look at me and think I’m crazy? Do they think I have an eating disorder?
Truth: there IS a lot of disordered eating in the “healthy living” blogosphere. Period. But it’s not always so cut and dry.
Orthorexia is defined as “an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy”, but do you see the problem with that definition? Um, doesn’t the premise assume that we’ve agreed on what “healthy” means? Because, you know, we haven’t!
Orthorexia is an accusation that’s hurled around a lot these days, the en vogue ED of our day. But I’m not sure I buy orthorexia as anything more than a subset of anorexia. What seems normal and “healthy” to one person may seem extreme and insane to another. That’s a slippery slope. For example, I’ve read articles where the author (a professional, mind you) insists that all raw foodists – even all vegans! – are de facto orthorexic. And certainly, if you’ve got yourself convinced that grains are evil, gluten is satan, soy is toxic, sugar in all forms causes cancer, processed foods are pure poison, and on and on until all that you’re eating is organic raw kale, well then yes, you have a problem. But really, if all you’re eating is [calorie-deficient] raw kale, then isn’t your problem actually just anorexia? Am I wrong?
Anyway, the truth is that in the world of diet and nutrition, there is someone who will tell you that anything is dangerous. If you can eat it, then somebody somewhere will tell you not to. Its easy to see how someone could become frightened and thus misled, writing off more and more foods as “bad”, until there’s very little left that feels “safe”. That’s why, in my opinion, there comes a point where seeking guidance outside of yourself is simply ineffective. (note: I’m not suggesting you forego actual treatment for actual disease)
For me, I had to trust my body and do my work from the inside out. And I did. Over the course of the last nine months I’ve gone from feeling horrible and unhealthy, to experiencing sustained energy and vibrant health. I cured my Candida. My blood sugar is almost always stable. And my mood swings, when they do occur, can most likely be attributed to my lady bits and their monthly cycles (damn it!). Best of all, I have an awesome, positive, easy and enjoyable relationship with food, choosing my meals based on what makes me feel the best. Most of the time that takes the form of foods that most people would deem as “super healthy” (I just call them yummy), and some of the time that turns out to be . . . coconut ice cream! Or whatever. I don’t stress about it, because finally, FINALLY, I’ve found my balance.
It’s a beautiful thing. And over the next few weeks, I look forward to sharing how I got here.