A few months ago, I started writing my story from the past year. I didn’t know if I would ever publish it on my blog, but I felt like it was important for me to have a record of what I’ve experienced. Since I started writing about my journey in bits and pieces, I’ve been amazed how many people have contacted me to share a similar experience or ask for advice. I finally decided to go back to last spring and tell my story in more detail. I hope it doesn’t come across as overly dramatic or too much info, but I’m taking the risk of being vulnerable because it might help someone else.
I broke it up into several parts, so I hope you will come back in future days to read more. To get things started, I need to talk about my relationship with food. They say, “You are what you eat,” but I didn’t realize how true that was until a year ago. It’s not only true physically, but it’s also part of who I am emotionally and mentally. For me, it wasn’t just about eating food, but showing love through food, celebrating through food, making other people feel special with food… Food is part of my identity. It’s part of who I am.
If someone had told me five years ago or two years ago or even a few months ago what my life would look like now, I don’t think I could have believed them. Even now, I sometimes wonder if I’m still really me. I can’t believe who I am becoming.
And it’s all because of food.
Five years ago, I was the woman my kids called, “Sweet Mama.” I was the person who never worried about what she ate.
“I’m on a high sugar diet,” I would joke to friends, as I chugged my Coca-Cola and ate a bag of M&Ms. I spent decades trying to perfect my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I loved to spoil my kids with a Hershey’s chocolate cake “just because.” I surprised them after school with an ice cream sundae bar, complete with four types of ice cream to choose from.
So much of my joy, family celebrations and the reward system I had created for myself and my kids revolved around indulging in food. I turned to food in times of happiness. I went to food in times of stress. Food was a fun activity on a Friday night. Food was my friend when I was sad.
Food is at the center of most social activities. It’s a reason to get together with friends. It’s the center of holiday gatherings. It’s how we celebrate!
Throughout the first 47 years of my life (I just turned 48), I thought thin equaled healthy. I struggled with feeling a bit overweight growing up because I wasn’t as skinny as some of my friends. I achieved my perfect goal weight toward the end of college. From then on, I was pretty successful at staying within a range that felt good to me. If I sensed I was gaining, I could skip meals or stop eating in the evenings to get back to where I wanted to be.
I would skip lunch so I could have a chocolate milk shake. I would use soda or diet soda to keep from eating snacks. I’ve always led an active lifestyle that included walking, biking, jogging or just playing with my kids. My diet seemed to be working for me, and I enjoyed it!
I became more aware of some of my bad food choices about three years ago when I was convicted to reduce my sugar intake. Each spring, I went for a month or six weeks without any sugar in my diet. Each time, it felt like a marathon of deprivation that would help me get back to my goal weight.
I didn’t know enough about food to know how to create a long-term diet that would allow me to squelch my sugar craving for much longer than that though. I would slip back into my old eating patterns. I found them comforting. The decline would start out slowly, but within a few months, I would be back to the old me, the real me, the Sweet Mama me.
During the last year, my relationship with food has shifted dramatically. Often, I fear food. I have become highly sensitive to a variety of foods. I don’t always know which food or which hidden substance might affect me, so I eat cautiously.
I don’t enjoy eating food outside of my own home. I used to love going out to eat with friends or running through a drive through. These days, I know I’m taking a risk that could cause me to be sick for weeks afterward. Even when I do find the perfect menu item at a restaurant, the experience of being surrounded by so many foods that I can’t eat can take an emotional toll.
Sometimes I feel annoyed at food. Why does it have to be so hard? Why can’t I go back to my old life. Why can’t I just wake up from this stupid bad dream and not worry about washing my hands just because I touched a piece of bread.
And then sometimes, I find my relationship with food exciting. For the first time in my life, I’m concerned about which foods have the most nutritional value. I enjoy buying raw veggies that I’ve never tried before and learning how to cook them.
My journey began when I found out I had celiac disease and later, collagenous colitis. It involves going gluten free and then doing The Whole 30, then moving into Paleo and now the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol Diet. But even if none of those things are of any interest to you, I hope you will keep reading.
Through this process, I am changing my relationship with food. I now think of food in a different way. It is the fuel that allows me to either function at my best possible level, or it will send me into a state of nonfunction.
I hope some of my experience will help you think differently about food, as well. Maybe it will help you gain compassion for someone with an autoimmune disease, an allergy, food intolerance or any other disease or disability. Or maybe it will even help you have a new understanding of what you eat.
Read the whole series:
Part One: A new view of food
Part Two: The start of my journey
Part Three: Malnourished in America
Part Four: Solving the gluten free puzzle
Part Five: The Isolation of autoimmune disease
Part Six: From Whole 30 to Paleo AIP
Part Seven: What do we eat?
Part Eight: A year later
Thanks so much for reading. Please feel free to leave me a comment below or enter your e-mail address in the box to the right to get my latest post in your e-mail inbox.
A few years ago, I was complaining to a friend about my struggle to lose a few pounds. She suggested that I try an eating plan, called “Whole 30.”
When she explained that the concept was to eat only meat, fruit, veggies, nuts and some fats for 30 days, I told her there was absolutely no way I could do it. I couldn’t imagine living for 30 days feeling so deprived. I couldn’t imagine giving up things like cereal, bread, pasta, sugar and dairy.
Fast forward a few years.
I have been wanting to make a change to my diet the past few months and decided to take another look at the Whole 30 plan. Strangely, after being gluten free for six months, I saw the eating plan in a totally different way.
Although I’ve learned how to prepare good food that is gluten free, I often don’t plan for my own eating needs. I will make a big dinner for my kids, and then sit down at the table to realize I don’t have anything I can eat. I love to try new foods at restaurants, but now I don’t really enjoy dining out. I know there might only be a few items on the menu that I can eat, and even then, I risk cross contamination which can make me sick for several weeks.
In a word, I often feel deprived. As a result, I end up over compensating on ice cream, tortillas chips or gluten free cookies that I have stashed in the freezer.
When I started scrolling through all of the Whole 30 meal ideas on Pinterest, I started getting excited. Sure, they don’t contain dairy, sugar or grains of any kind, but they are ALL gluten free! Instead of feeling deprived, I felt like I had tons of choices. The meal plan encourages you to try new foods, as long as they are real food. That idea excites me because I love to try different food.
Sure. I could just cut my biggest culprit — sugar — out of my diet and do a better job of planning meals that are gluten free. But there’s something about making a really big change that excites me. I really love a challenge, and I was looking for a good dietary change to start off the new year.
I’ve created my meal plans and completed all of my grocery shopping, so I decided to get started on the Whole 30 today. Why wait until tomorrow? Weird, right?
I started the morning with chia seeds soaked in coconut milk, a side of bacon and some pomegranate seeds. By the way, my decaf coffee looks a little weird because it has coconut milk in it. (Yes… I’ll probably become one of those people who takes photos of her food everyday!)
My husband loved lunch! We ate roasted sweet potatoes, apples and pecans, with some Whole 30 approved sausage.
I stopped eating sugar a few days ago to help me prepare for the change. Typically, this alone would have me sulking around with a head ache all day. Instead, I’ve been eating so much filling food, that I feel great!
I also splurged and bought a subscription to realplans.com. If you are doing Whole 30, this is an amazing resource. The service gives you access to 500 Whole 30 recipes that you can drag and drop into your monthly menu. It comes with a free app that makes it easy to use in your kitchen. Once you are done planning out your meals, it creates a shopping list that you can use on your phone.
I’m sure the reality of doing Whole 30 will set in when the kids go back to school and I go back to work and don’t have time to stay on top of the meal preparation. But I went into Day 1 ready with awesome food choices. I’m pretty sure that I’m going to GAIN weight eating so much yummy food, but at this point, I don’t really care. I’m just excited about having a plan for delicious, healthy meals for the next few weeks.
What about you? Do you have plans to make any dietary changes in the new year? Have you done Whole 30?
I really didn’t believe I could do this.
If you had told me a few weeks ago that I would be able to go five days without sugar, I would have said, “No way.” If you read my last blog post, then you know I was pretty discouraged after I couldn’t even make it until Noon without putting sugar in my tea!
But then, a neat thing happened. People started encouraging me. They left me comments here and on Facebook. They sent me e-mails and messages. They told me they believed I could do it. They even gave me helpful advice on how to break it down and set smaller goals to get to my result. They told me not to be so hard on myself.
And after a few days, I realized the real problem. I really didn’t believe I could do it.
I expected myself to fail.
I started reading blogs and web sites with info on doing a sugar detox. I decided I would wait until April 22 to start. That would allow me to enjoy Easter on Sunday and my birthday on Monday.
But when I woke up this past Monday morning, I was ready to start. I was determined. I was GOING to do it!
No sugar. No sweets. No artificial sweeteners.
I was off.
I realized right away that I had no idea what I was doing. I really had never studied labels enough to know that sugar is in almost every thing I buy at the grocery store! I had planned to stop using sugar or artificial sweeteners, and I planned to stop eating sweets and desserts and anything that is obviously sugary, But other than that, I hadn’t given any thought to what I would eat to give me the energy to get through the day.
I had to set some parameters for what a sugar detox even meant for me. I realized that even though I was cutting out a ton of my favorite foods, I was still consuming a lot of sugar, just by drinking milk or eating spaghetti sauce or even a tortilla. And then there was fruit. I decided to go with a plan that I could manage, rather than trying to do a true detox that would require me to squeeze my own almonds to make almond milk.
I still allow myself to have a small amount of milk, peanut butter and other foods, as long as they contain 2 grams of sugar or less. I also allow myself to have two fruits a day. I don’t eat bread or crackers. But I’m still eating some pasta and oatmeal. As each day goes on, I’m learning more about what I should and shouldn’t eat and making changes to my “rules.”
The first two days were rough. My head was foggy. I couldn’t think clearly. I was moody. And I had major crashes in the afternoon and evening. By day three and four, my head was starting to clear, and I wasn’t as obsessed with sugar. I realized that I needed to be prepared with fresh veggies, almonds and other healthy snacks at all times so I wouldn’t get hungry. I started packing a huge container of fresh vegetables if I was going to be gone for more than a few hours.
I’ve also found out that protein and fat are my friends. They make me feel full and give me energy. I’ve eaten more fresh veggies in the last week than I probably ate the first three months of the year combined!
I’m on Day Five today, and I feel like I’ve stabilized. I have energy. I’m not craving sugar. And I feel good about myself.
I KNEW I could do it! 😉