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How Chronic Illness Helped Me Take Back My Control Over Food

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It is pretty amazing to me to look back over how my relationship with food has changed over the past five years.  It has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  Unfortunately, there were a lot more lows.  But I am happy to say that I am darn near close to having a pretty awesome relationship with food once again.

How Chronic Illness Helped Me Take Back My Control Over Food

Control QuoteDuring high school and college I ate whatever I wanted.  It was not at all unusual for me to eat Fruity Pebbles for breakfast, a sandwich with white bread and chips for lunch, Hamburger Helper for dinner, and plenty of fruit snack packs, cookies, a pop, and puppy chow throughout the day.  It was honestly a pretty rare phenomenon to have vegetables or an apple make their way onto my plate.

Though I had a pretty poor diet at the time, I had an amazing relationship with food.  It may not have been the healthiest food ever (clearly, it wasn’t), but I never once felt guilty about what I ate.  I never felt bad if I ate out twice in one day.  I never got down on myself for putting my hand back into the chip bag a few times more than what the serving size recommended.  I never cared what others thought about how I ate.  I loved food.  I ate it.  I enjoyed it.  And quite possibly most importantly was the fact that I never thought twice about food.  It did not consume my time.  It was just food.  It was simply a small part of my life.

When my acid reflux got out of control in 2011, I made a decision to start eating vegetarian in hopes that these diet changes would help.  I also worked hard to clean up my diet since I knew my diet choices at the time were not something that would be sustainable for the rest of my life.  I figured the sooner I tried incorporating healthy foods into my diet, the better.  It was not easy at first, but the foods my body started craving began to surprise me.  I loved incorporating veggies into my meals, and apples became my go-to afternoon snack.

Unfortunately, this positive change was not the only change I experienced in my relationship with food.  I began losing weight (I did not need to, but was enjoying being able to wear any type of clothing and not having a single bit of cellulite), began only wanting to eat “clean” or healthy food, and began thinking more and more about whether certain foods I was putting in my body were “good” or “bad.”  I was giving labels to food that I had never used before.  It was truly a negative relationship.  Food was controlling me instead of simply being something I enjoyed and that helped me sustain life.  I began eating mostly vegan.  I feared fat.  I cared about calories.  I was skinny (at one point, too skinny).   I was not healthy.  I was not happy.

Then things began to change for both the worse and the better.

My knee pain changed to chronic joint and muscle pain in more areas of my body than I could count.  My acid reflux worsened.  I was exhausted.  I developed sinus issues.  My period was irregular.  I was depressed (a lot of which was due to my physical symptoms).  I felt pretty downright awful.  I knew something had to change.

I sought the help of conventional medicine first, then through trail and error and tons of research, realized I needed a more functional/non-conventional approach.  One thing I knew I needed was to change my diet.  I needed to try to heal myself with food.  It was at this point that I adopted a Paleo diet (now nearly AIP-Paleo), upped my healthy fats and probiotic intake, and began listening to my body.  Over the past four months, I have seen my acid reflux improve immensely, my exhaustion levels decrease, my period become more regular, my mental health improve, and my unhealthy relationship with food nearly disappear.  Focusing on healing my body and feeding it what it needs has resulted in me taking back my power and control over food.

My diet is quite restrictive right now.  So you might be wondering, “how does she have control over food?”

  • I choose the food I eat based on what will heal my body, not what will make me skinny.
  • I do not worry about only eating a certain amount of calories.
  • I eat a diet high in healthy fats and know that doing so will NOT make me fat.
  • I eat meat (organic and grass-fed whenever possible) and am not afraid that it is horribly unhealthy or killing me.
  • I no longer care if some days I eat six servings of vegetables and other days I only eat one or two.
  • I don’t fear eating out.  In fact, since it can be difficult to eat out, I am always extremely excited and happy when I am able to.
  • I don’t ever feel like I need to exercise or workout more to compensate for what I eat.
  • I pile on the seed or nut butter instead of measuring it, eat it multiple times per day, and don’t feel an ounce of guilt.
  • I eat half a bag of plantain chips or sweet potato chips in one sitting and never feel like I am doing something bad.
  • I don’t think about food all of the time.  It does not control me.  I live my life without thinking about it all of the time.

It certainly took me awhile to get to this place, but I truly believe that my experiences with chronic illness have helped guide me here.  Do I enjoy chronic pain?  Heck no.  I would much rather it leave my side immediately.  But I know it is a work in progress.  And while it is difficult not to have negative feelings about it, I am trying to be more positive.  One positive from everything is that it taught me to look to food as a way to heal my body.  To look to food as medicine and for energy.  To look to food as a good, positive thing.

With the help of food, I can heal my body.  I know this.  It is just a long, trying process because it takes so much trial and error.  It also takes asking for help.  Being vulnerable.  Being willing to not be “perfect,” or “clean,” or super skinny.  And guess what?  That is more than okay with me.  Getting my health and happiness back is far more important to me.

I may deal with chronic pain (among other symptoms), but I am happy to say that food no longer controls my happiness or my life.  I am embracing the healing power of food.  I am enjoying cooking and being creative in the kitchen again.  I am so eager and excited each time that I am able to eat food at a restaurant.  I love me some good ole’ fats (helllllo avocado, coconut oil, and SunButter)!  Food just plain makes me happy again, and it’s about time!

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Ashlee October 26, 2015, 7:21 am
    You are such an inspiration Hannah! You're blog has definitely helped me with sticking through and beating my anorexia/bulliemia. So happy for you and keep staying strong girl:)
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 4:50 pm
      I am glad that you have been able to find some inspiration here on your own personal journey. Wishing you all the best! :)
  • Alli O October 26, 2015, 8:27 am
    I know I've said this before, but it's so true-we have had a very similar journey! I ate whatever I wanted, never feeling guilty but then needing my gallbladder removed finally started to realize that i needed to change up my diet. Lost a little weight and loved it and kept going, making food the enemy. Now on the other side of that have tried functional medicine to heal my various health issues. While I loved the "freedom" I got where I no longer was restricting "bad" foods and never cared about calories, things didn't really turn the corner for me. For over a year I tried any and all diets including a complete elimination diet with introduction to the AIP for awhile to no avail and it made me more miserable than ever before. Not being able to eat foods I wanted and not feeling any positive changes in my health worsened my depression badly and made me very bitter when in public situations because everyone else could eat and be happy. So while I have learned A TON from functional medicine, I'm currently going my own route with all my new knowledge and hoping I can find a balance that works for me and makes me healthy again. I love reading your updates and how honest you are (and of course all the delicious recipes!) and I wish you the best of luck on this journey of finding relief from your pain!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 4:51 pm
      It is reassuring (but also sad for you!) to know that others can relate to my frustrations. Hopefully one day we both figure out what is best for our bodies!!
  • Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl October 26, 2015, 8:29 am
    I love this post! I am still trying to figure out what works for me - I thought after my Celiacs diagnosis, eliminating wheat would be the end of it, but unfortunately not, and until I can find the right solution I still think about food too much for my comfort. It's tough to always be planning a day of meals ahead and wondering if you will be sick every time you eat out at a restaurant (which is a lot in NYC)! Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl recently posted...Weekend Updates and the Poland Springs 5M Marathon KickoffMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 4:53 pm
      So frustrating, right? I hear you about eating out at restaurants. Something that we once took for granted has now become a task! I am wishing you all the best in your journey toward good health!
  • Rebecca @ Strength and Sunshine October 26, 2015, 9:15 am
    Glad you're seeing progress or at least finding a happier balance! t is so hard when we just don't have "real" definitions or "guides" or remedies, but we can find what works with trial and error and just take it each day!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 4:58 pm
      I SO agree!! It would be nice to have some sort of diagnosis to guide me and work off of!
  • Torry @ A World Without Wheat October 26, 2015, 10:32 am
    I love this post because I can relate to it - as I was reading I just kept saying "yes, I get that"! It was so nice back in the day when I could eat and not have to worry about every little thing that I put in my mouth. I know how I eat now is healing my body but sometimes I just wish I could go back and enjoy that piece of pizza and tell my old self to slow down and enjoy this bc soon its gonna be gone :-) Torry @ A World Without Wheat recently posted...Weekend RecapMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 4:59 pm
      I can so relate! I really wish I would not have ever taken for granted the ability to eat things like pizza, bread, etc.! I rarely crave/miss them now, but it sure would be nice to have them back in my life.
  • Dani @ Dani California Cooks October 26, 2015, 10:57 am
    Great to hear that you're feeling better and finding joy somewhere that didn't used to make you feel that way. It's definitely a journey! Dani @ Dani California Cooks recently posted...Shrimp Tacos Al Pastor (gluten free)My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 5:02 pm
      Oh yes, it is! And not always a positive journey, but I am trying to look on the bright side more!
  • Catherine @ foodiecology October 26, 2015, 1:27 pm
    Hate that you're still dealing with pain, but love that your relationship with food is on the mend! Keep your head up, girl. <3 Catherine @ foodiecology recently posted...Meal Plan Monday 10.26.15My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 26, 2015, 5:03 pm
      Thanks so much, Catherine. I really appreciate all of the positive thoughts!
  • Kate October 26, 2015, 9:23 pm
    In my own life I've found when food = medicine and not a way to achieve a certain ideal, it becomes something worth celebrating and not a source of stress. I think your new perspective on food is inspiring- way to honor your body! Kate recently posted...Lickity split dessertsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 27, 2015, 12:59 pm
      Thanks, Kate! It is most definitely something that I don't feel like I have to stress over for hours on end... which is so nice!
  • Ruth October 27, 2015, 10:17 am
    This is such a wonderful post that expresses hidden feelings towards food very well. I totally understand the need for progress and working towards the happier relationship with food... Like you, I'm doing my best to not be afraid of cooking with fat and eating fats. Perhaps I'll start out by doing the little things, such as not measuring the nut butters (cause sunflower seed butters are just so darn delicious!) Thanks for sharing these encouraging thoughts!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 27, 2015, 1:00 pm
      You bet! I definitely recommend starting with baby steps. Before you know it, it will get easier and easier!
  • Ashley October 27, 2015, 1:50 pm
    I absolutely love that you are choosing to look on the positive side of this all and how it's helped you with your relationship with food! Seriously, that's amazing. I don't have chronic health issues (for which I am extremely thankful) but I sure need to take a page out of your book with the attitude adjustment!!! Ashley recently posted...Homemade Spiced Sugared CranberriesMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 28, 2015, 1:53 pm
      Unfortunately my days are not always this positive... BUT, the majority are! I guess I got tired of feeling so icky all of the time ;)
  • Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious October 27, 2015, 6:34 pm
    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. You are an inspiration to many others struggling with their relationship with food and I'm sure it was also therapeutic to write about it too. Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted...10 Tricks To Beat The Halloween TreatsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 28, 2015, 1:55 pm
      It definitely was! These posts are some of the more difficult ones to write, but they always make me feel good afterwards! I like to call it free therapy ;)
  • Joanna October 27, 2015, 7:36 pm
    I feel like I've run out of ways to tell you how awesome and inspiring you are! I'm so happy that things are looking up for you in more ways than one. Hope to see you this weekend :)
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 28, 2015, 1:55 pm
      Aw, thanks ;) And yes... I should be in town so let me know what you are up to!! :)
  • She Rocks Fitness November 2, 2015, 2:19 pm
    This is such a beautiful and honest post! I always look back to my college days and I was the exact same way. I ate, I drank, I was a college athlete, I never wore jeans because my quads were too big, but I didn't care. I was happy with my life, my body, and food was the last thing on my mind. I too am healing and letting go of the rules and like you the more healthy FATS the better, especially when it is spoonfuls of nut butter. It is my FAVORITE! She Rocks Fitness recently posted...A Day Without The Internet…My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl November 2, 2015, 7:52 pm
      I am so glad you are on the upswing of things, too! And yes... the more nut/seed butter, the better! :D

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