So much to cover here. In general I like to avoid labeling my eating habits or over-sharing them because it seems to have the following negative effects:
1) People get super defensive. It’s amazing how many people feel the need to go on and on about how much they love eating meat when they find out I don’t. I’m really not judging your choice, or asking what it is.
2) Everyone becomes an expert. Practically every food from avocados (super-food/fatty demon) to popsicles (low cal treat/processed sugar demon) is controversial. And no matter what I say I eat, someone will jump in with how it’s going to be my demise. And it usually means I’m an idiot.
That said, I do want to share my experience. But I want to be clear that I’m not interested in now becoming an advocate for everyone eating the way I do. My choices are a mix of personal reasons/health reasons/research reasons and body response reasons. I don’t expect that everyone share those with me. I’m very okay with people making different choices than me. The only sweeping statement I’m comfortable with diet-wise is that most Americans could stand to eat more fresh food/produce… and would probably feel better for it.
For months now I’ve been having serious GI issues. To the point of embarrassment around my husband. Like, sorry dude, I know I’ve been gassy… for a seriously long time. I went from being seriously clock-worky “regular” to “irregular and uncomfortable.” I promise I am less comfortable telling you about this than you are reading it. But I don’t know how to tell you how I got here without being real about it. I started reading up about elimination diets (watch out, I’m a researching mamma jamma) and decided to give it a whirl.
An elimination diet can be done in various ways but the basic idea is avoiding common allergens completely for a period of time and then reintroducing them individually to see how your body responds. There are other ways to test for food sensitivities but most are inconclusive and expensive. Mostly expensive isn’t something I can work with. I am someone who believes that a lot of ailments can be dealt with through proper nourishment. So when my stuff got out of whack, my diet is the first place I wanted to check out. Plus, I kinda knew cheese was a part of the problem. The worst times were always when there was a “cheese incident” (I say mainly because I’m not very good at having a reasonable amount of cheese, I freaking love it).
I had no idea starting out how I would even begin to avoid cheese. It sounded like my life would be over. This is something I hear a lot, and I do think it’s a little perplexing that something made from the breast milk of another mammal is so emotionally loaded for humans (myself included). The first few days all I could think about was grilled cheese, pizza and nachos. I’m not really entirely sure how I went to work. And on day 4 it just stopped. I stopped missing cheese. I was fine. (I already prefer almond or coconut milk, and am not a huge yogurt person, so cheese was really it).
About a week into the elimination diet I started feeling amazing. I had my first solid… ahem… in ages. I quit feeling bloated and awful. And I started waking up ready to go instead of dragging ass. My workouts improved (because I never feel sick in the mornings anymore). Everything felt better. But I was excited to start “testing” things.
I found goat cheese was less upsetting than other cheese. But when I tried adding in any other type of cheese (and we’re talking small quantities) I was right back to feeling “shitty.” So there you have it, dairy was out. Like I said, I knew this to be the case. But to me, if dairy was on the table, it was all going on the fucking table. I’m sorry, but if I was going to consider giving up cheese I was not going to end up suffering at the hand of an ear of corn and question if I’d abandoned cheese too soon.
So it was on to gluten. I have to admit, when it comes to gluten intolerance it sort of makes think of kids and ADD. Yes, ADD is totally a thing and should be approached with care but not EVERY four year old with an age appropriate short attention span has it. I think just because people say “gluten free diet” people think it’s, you know, a diet. Like southbeach or paleo. It’s a thing you follow to lose weight. Trouble is most folks going that route are simply finding all of the “gluten free” labeled processed foods at the grocery store that are often not better for you than what you are replacing. It’s not that I don’t think people are gluten sensitive, but I do think it’s a little over-home-diagnosed, and I certainly didn’t think I was.
So once my cheese testing phase was over I tested gluten. Which in my mind meant “and now I go back to eating bread.” Holy cow was I incorrect. Bread, turns out, makes my sinuses go haywire. I get crazy sinus pressure and just generally swell everywhere. I tried on two separate occasions to blow this off and blame it on something else but the third time my face swelled and hurt I conceded. It was then, and only then, that I looked up symptoms of gluten intolerance and found this to be a common symptom. Huh.
Other things I was testing; soy, corn, nightshade vegetables… all okay.
So I was then a little stumped. Just like when I stopped eating meat and didn’t know how to start a meal. “So if I’m not eating chicken breast then… *draws blank.*” (I stopped eating meat a few years ago for animal reasons, I’m not an evangelical vegetarian. I’m not even a vegetarian because I do eat fish. I don’t feel bad about eating fish. I blame Kurt Cobain.)
Turns out the changes I’ve made have just forced me to again make small adjustments in what I would normally eat. The payoff though, better energy, better skin, better workouts, better sleep, better mornings… so worth it.
What this means: I have found for MY BODY that dairy and gluten don’t work. I have decided that for my sensibilities eating animals doesn’t sit well. That said, I could gut a fish if I had to. What this doesn’t mean: being diary/animal/gluten free makes you healthier.
You can easily read labels and veggie burger/vegan cheese/rice noodle it up and still be eating primarily crap. You can still be sluggish and not see improvements in your body or health. There is no miracle for every person in eating this way, and buying all the “fake out” products is not the way to a healthier you.
I will continue to post about my experiences eating this way, but I want to be clear that what I propose from all this is that you figure out what works best FOR YOU. Not follow what some guru at your gym says blindly. Use your critical thinking skills, do research that considers more than one “side” and doesn’t call anyone an idiot. Most importantly, listen to your body. A huge turning point for me with my body was pregnancy, because it was the first time in my life I began to trust what I knew my body was telling me. You actually are an expert… on you.
To be honest, there is a lot I’m not excited about with my new way of eating. Going to a restaurant and eating healthy was difficult before (most vegetarian dishes in restaurants are various forms of melted cheese on melted cheese). Now not only is it hard to eat out, but I’m that person who pretty much needs something that isn’t on the menu. Vietnamese, Thai and Indian restaurants are the easiest so far. But that’s kind of a bitch. Also, I know that I will endure all over again a slue of annoying questions about my eating choices. And by questions I mean backhanded judgey statements. This is easy to let roll off but it never ceases to amaze me that the healthier choices I make with my body, the more folks feel the need to voice their opinions about it. It makes me wonder where all these “experts” in my life were when I was wicked depressed, sedentary and eating party pizzas and velveeta all the time. NO ONE voiced concern about my diet or my macro-nutrient intake then.
So that’s what I’ve learned. About me. And while it’s not convenient I feel 100% better than I did for months on end before, so I’ll take it. I’ve found this process to be really helpful in getting back to basics; listening to my body and sticking with what makes me feel best. I recommend you do the same.
***I am not a doctor or nutritionist, for goodness sake my personal experiences should never be utilized as medical advice***