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
During 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!