You know what’s amazing about freeing yourself from food rules and dietary dogma?
Well, there’s the elimination of those terrible, guilt-inducing food labels: “Good” and “Bad”.
And there’s the lack of worry about how many calories every bite of food has in it.
There’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing you can eat anything (nothing is off-limits), but you simply choose what you would like to eat and how much, without fear that you’ll be eating too much, or that you’ll never get an opportunity again to eat a certain something.
There’s all of those things. But something I’m really enjoying: my love of food and cooking.
For years now, I’ve gone from someone who loved to cook to someone who was at war with food. In 2007-2008, I dove head-first into learning to cook. I mean really learning to cook. My parents bought me a complete professional knife set, and I read the CIA book The Professional Chef and learned the techniques, and in July 2008, I started my blog. I made desserts, I challenged myself with all sorts of new-to-me ethnic delights, and I subscribed to all the best food magazines. I loved it. I lived it and breathed it.
But I struggled with digestive issues, and they finally worsened to a point where I went gluten-free. At first, this didn’t deter my love for food. I worked to convert recipes so that I could still enjoy all of my favorite things and explore cuisines even while avoiding gluten. I even joined Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks. I made pierogies. I made croquembouche. It was fun.
Then I eliminated dairy. Then, since I still wasn’t feeling well, and was doing SO. MUCH. RESEARCH. on why this could be. I tried removing FODMAPS from my diet. Then I eliminated all sweeteners and grains for a while, and didn’t even allow myself fruit. I was the strictest of strict paleo for a good 4-5 months, and relatively strict paleo for over a year. During this time, I also was using a calorie tracker, telling myself I was primarily using it as a food log to help determine issues with food intolerances. (I wasn’t.)
I read into all the rules about the paleo diet. I followed paleo blogs. I started to live and breathe paleo. I believed that the reason my system wasn’t digesting food properly was that grains where the enemy. Dairy was something we weren’t supposed to eat as humans. Sugar was poison. I also became enamored with the newfound leanness I’d discovered (because when you’re not eating much, you tend to lose weight). But most of all, every bite of food was scrutinized for its health benefits.
It was then that love for food left the building. Sure, there were points where it reared its head, hoping to come back into my life, but ultimately I was at war with food. So many foods caused me to react. If I baked, even gluten/grain/dairy-free, or even paleo, I binged on the baked goods, making myself sick. I had digestive issues for several days after that each time, so I felt I was intolerant to all of it. Initially, I felt good, but after a year or so of this way of eating, I felt I was slipping. I would go into a cycle of pretty strict paleo (and low calorie/low carb – I was trying to keep below 1300 calories most days, and below 75 grams of carbohydrates), and then I’d bake something and fall face-first into it. I felt out of control, and began labeling myself as a sugar addict.
I tried multiple Whole30s, trying to “reset” my body. Surely if I was a sugar addict, I had to rid myself of it entirely, right? Only I never got “better”. I was still avoiding so many foods. My digestive system, while somewhat better, was never 100%. After a long while, I looked into other ideas. I tried a high-raw, mostly vegan diet for a short time – but it turns out when you have trouble digesting beans and grains, there aren’t a lot of vegan protein options available. So you essentially go hungry.
I started to read about long-term calorie restriction, and worried I was cutting too low for too long. So I upped my calories a bit. To a whopping 1400-1500 a day. I still was eating mostly paleo, but still would “cheat” – but treats had to be “healthier” versions. No white sugar. No starchy flours. I still managed to binge on those when I would make them. I couldn’t stop myself. And I still obsessed over food. I would count the minutes until it was late enough so I could eat my small 300 calorie breakfast and manage to make it until lunchtime. I would try to distract myself from being hungry so I wouldn’t want to snack. I drank coffee. Herbal tea. Chewed gum. But I still wanted to eat. ALL. THE. TIME.
Not until I found out about the Eating The Food Facebook group, read some information from Matt Stone about Diet Recovery, and really allowed myself to eat did I understand just how far I’d gone down the rabbit hole. I finally looked up the calories I should have been eating on a daily basis. And I finally tried to work towards eating. Just eating.
Within days, I gained energy. Clarity. But most importantly, in a matter of weeks, I no longer had any desire to binge. I no longer obsessed about food. I no longer felt out of control.
And now, here I am. About 4 months in. Still pretty new, and I sometimes get those old thought patterns coming back (a thought in my mind about how “bad” grains are, or how they aren’t nutrient dense, or whether I’ve eaten too much “bad” stuff in a given day), but more and more, I am enjoying freedom. Freedom to love food again. Freedom to love life again. Freedom to love myself again.
And I’m starting to love cooking again. I don’t feel restricted by as much. I still follow a gluten-free and mostly dairy-free diet (I’m even finding I can handle dairy in small amounts!), but anything else is game. I don’t have to feel afraid of making a treat, because I won’t eat it all and hate myself for doing so. I don’t have to worry about how “bad” some things are. In fact, I used real, white sugar in several recipes lately, and I am not apologizing for it. It’s amazing – how if you nourish your body enough, your body will tell you when it’s had enough. I’m not a sugar addict after all. I was just undereating. In fact, I have a jar full of Jolly Ranchers (I know! The horror!) sitting on my desk at the office. I bought them more than a week ago, and I have had exactly one. Not because I’m telling myself they’re bad for me, but because I haven’t wanted one. But if I do, I’ll have one. It’s as simple as that.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baking to do. Cupcakes are on the agenda, with real chocolate buttercream. I can’t wait.