The Prevalence of Fear-Mongering

fear mongering

Everywhere you turn, you see extremism in the diet, health and fitness world. It seems to stem from some morbid combination of the “more is better” mentality and the sensationalism that is so prevalent in the media. It’s painful, and it’s harmful to your body and mind.

For example, let’s consider what I have eaten so far today (it’s almost 11 AM):

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt

Blueberry juice

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices

Pink Lady apple

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween

Now, let’s break it down with all of the warnings given by so-called diet “gurus” that are often so typically attributed to eating these foods:

Oatmeal with cinnamon, raw sugar, raisins, ghee, and a pinch of salt (too many carbs will cause diabetes or cognitive impairment! Sugar is as addictive as heroin! Oats have phytic acid! Dairy has pus in it! Raisins are high in sugar and carbs, and sugar is the devil and will cause diabetes!)

Blueberry juice (juice is just pure sugar! Sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

Coffee with coconut milk and gelatin (Coffee causes adrenal exhaustion! Coconut milk has saturated fat – we can’t decide if that’s good or bad! Gelatin is an animal product, and eating animal products is cruel or can age you faster, or both!)

Applegate Farms smoked turkey slices (eating animals is cruel! Too much protein can hurt your kidneys!)

Pink Lady apple (fruit is high in sugar, and sugar causes diabetes and is addictive!)

One mellowcreme pumpkin leftover from Halloween (artificial dyes and flavors cause cancer! Sugar is more addictive than heroin! Corn syrup is GMO!)

Wow. That’s enough to make what seemed like a reasonable breakfast and morning snack seem like a death trap. And we didn’t even touch on how I might get “Grain Brain“…and if I happen to eat a sandwich later, I might get a “Wheat Belly“. There’s phytic acid in my nuts, oxalic acid in my kale, and I’m going to have insidious weight gain if my carbs go above 150 grams a day. Suddenly, I’m so filled with fear that I will EAT THE WRONG FOOD that the entire natural, human process of eating becomes a source of great anxiety.

Welcome to orthorexia, folks.

This is where I lived for a few years. Fell down one rabbit hole of diet guru fear-mongering, only to find another hole and fall down it as well. When my digestive system didn’t get better, or when I didn’t see weight loss, surely I was “doing it wrong” and would blame the carbs, the phytic acid, the sugar in my fruit, or perhaps in spite of my never-eat-out, obsessive-compulsive diet, I was still getting hidden gluten that was wreaking havoc on my body.

I was afraid of food.

I can’t put all the blame on the “gurus” out there. After all, I could have very easily dug into the science studies myself. Stayed away from all the crazy claims. But I didn’t. I trusted others to do the hard work for me. Each time I followed something new, it was wrapped in shiny, shout-y, fear-grabbing phrases, such as “hidden things that make you fat”, or “sugar in fruit can prevent weight loss”. I would see testimonials, see before and after pictures and totally believe that the same should happen to me.

News flash: it didn’t.

This type of motivation isn’t positive. It’s detrimental to not only those seeking diet, nutrition, and fitness advice, but it’s harmful to our society as a whole. It puts all of us on the edge about what is/is not the “right” foods to feed ourselves and our children. And this mentality causes us to judge one another and ourselves for eating whatever food is deemed “wrong”. Holding onto negative judgments, whether they are related to food, diet, or anything in life, keeps us from discovering our power to change our lives for the better.

But fear-mongering is everywhere. What can we do to change it?

We can work to break the spell. Call a spade a spade. Take the power away from the fear and those that would have you remain afraid. Once you realize the signs (extreme claims, claims made that aren’t backed by solid, scientific research, ridiculous testimonials, etc), you can call out the bullshit. Focus on moderation. We can chill out, and make general goals that are positive, such as learning to cook from scratch, moving more (in sustainable, self-loving ways), getting more sleep, spending time with the ones we love – things that are positive for long-term health. We can stop endorsing such insane claims and fear-mongering. Don’t give your money to diet gurus. Don’t share around articles promoting negative diet information. Work to change your mindset to stop the vilification or glorification of foods. There are no “bad” or “good” foods. There’s just food.

And I happen to love food. Don’t you?

Trusting My Own Body

trust my body

This past weekend, I didn’t count calories. I didn’t count carbs. I didn’t stress about how much or how little I was eating.

It was glorious.

Saturday was definitely a hungry day. You see, I played soccer Friday night (well, Saturday morning, technically, as the game started at 11:48PM). Saturday morning I spent time out in the heat, pulling up overgrown, wilting cucumber and watermelon vines, pulling weeds, and planting a fall garden. Saturday afternoon was another soccer game. I was active, and my body told me it needed food, and so I gave it a lot of food.

It was happy, and Sunday, which was a slower paced day (bowling, grocery shopping, and cooking – the usual), I was much less hungry. I didn’t finish my lunch and took a doggie bag. I only ate a modest amount of dinner and was satisfied.

I did that novel thing called listening to my body.

It wasn’t until Sunday night that I retroactively tallied up my calories, just to see where I landed. Turns out, I ate close to my TEE (total energy expenditure) both days.

You see, this is revolutionary to me. I’ve been dieting and restricting for so long, I’d lost touch with satiety signals. I didn’t trust them. Years of limiting calories and demonizing foods caused me to truly believe that left to my own devices, I’d fall face-first into a limitless supply of cakes and fried foods and never stop eating. Because whenever I “failed” or “slipped up” at whatever diet I was on, that was what would happen. I believed I was addicted to sugar or food or whatever, or else I believed I didn’t have a strong will.

I was just hungry.

Sure, when I first began my Eating the Food process, I ate what seemed like limitless amounts of certain things. I ate Chocolate Chex at night. I ate jelly beans. I enjoyed chips and candy. This went on for a few weeks. But eventually, the draw to those foods and eating so much of them leveled off. They were no longer “forbidden”, and I was no longer feeling like I was starving, so they were just food. Food I could have any time if I so chose. And eventually, I chose to let them be, for the most part. Case in point: right now there are both potato chips and ice cream in my house. I haven’t had the chips in weeks; and while I did have some ice cream Sunday night, I haven’t really thought about it since then. These foods would be gone in a flash, if I “allowed” myself to have them in the past (not that I really ever did). They no longer have power over me. Sure, if I crave sweets, I’ll have some. I also crave greens, and when I do, I have those too. I’m starting to listen to my body.

I’ve held on to counting calories, however, through this process. Why? Well, now it’s to ensure I eat ENOUGH. Since I was so used to eating a lesser amount, it took me a while to really get a feel for how much a proper amount of food was to nourish my body. I’m becoming less and less concerned about this being an everyday practice as times goes on, though. This weekend’s experience has taught me that obviously, my body knows what it needs. You see, apparently my body is pretty smart. If I’m listening, it tells me what it wants. If I trust it, I can work WITH it, not fight it.

And that synergy, my friends, is both beautiful and freeing.

Now, what shall I do with all that mental energy that was previously devoted to obsessing over calories? I think I might start by relaxing. And then listening to some good tunes. Then I’ll see where that leads me.

Diet and Identity

i am not my diet

If you’ve ever followed a popular diet or way of eating, you’re likely to be aware of the “community” aspect of it. This includes many dietary lifestyles such as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, primal, Weston A. Price, gluten-free, dairy-free, or even “clean” eating. Even Weight Watchers, MyFitnessPal.com, and countless others have a community you can join. Most of the time, this can be good. We, as human beings, need support to get through times of change. It’s natural. It’s normal.

Support can be positive. Through my years as a gluten-free blogger, I’ve hoped to offer support for those who live a gluten-free lifestyle out of necessity due to a celiac disease diagnosis or other health-related issues that require a gluten-free diet. Being told you have to drastically change your eating habits is a shock to so many people. You can no longer just “grab something” to eat on your way to somewhere else. You can’t nibble on anything offered to you. Eating “just one bite” of Grandma’s Thanksgiving pie is no longer an option. It’s a truly difficult situation, and many times, those going through it feel utterly alone. They feel lost. Overwhelmed. They grieve. I have hoped that through my blog that I could help alleviate some of that pain by offering assistance and a ton of gluten-free recipes, showing that gluten-free eating doesn’t have to feel restrictive.

This kind of support is great. And in the gluten-free world, that kind of support is growing. There’s a community. I love that it’s there. After all, I have a family member that was diagnosed with celiac disease about 20 years ago, and none of this was available at the time. Life would have been so much easier having this resource and support around him.

In addition to contributing to the gluten-free community, I became part of it. I’ve built relationships with other gluten-free bloggers. I’ve built a relationship with readers. It expands even beyond just gluten-free; I have built relationships with all sorts of healthy eating and living bloggers, including vegan and paleo. I’ve also built a brand. My blog touts whole food recipes. It’s part of me in many ways.

And then there’s my personal life. Gluten-free isn’t all of my identity, but it’s inevitably part of it. I’ve eaten gluten-free for over four years. It comes up whenever there’s a get-together and food is involved. My family knows I cook and eat gluten-free (in fact, I cater to everyone else’s food allergies and intolerances!). My friends know. My coworkers eyeball everything I eat (mostly out of curiosity – I eat differently than the average person). I’ve built this environment, after all, through not only explaining why I eat this way, but even by bringing goodies from home to the office, to soccer games, and to any other function I can think of. Many people know that I eat gluten-free, and that I eat a healthy diet. Those closest to me know it goes even deeper than that – that I also try to eat mostly organic, local, free-range, sustainable foods. I generally have refrained from judging others and their food choices, but my own choices have been rather rigid in the past.

That’s been changing. As part of my diet recovery process, I’ve been letting go of the rigidity. I’ve also found that by eating more and becoming less strict about my diet, my digestive system is healing. I’m listening to my body, and giving it what it wants (Which isn’t always a kale salad, or two tons of vegetables, which was what I would force myself to eat in the past. Sometimes I genuinely crave those things, and then I’ll eat them. But it’s not 3 times a day, every day.). Through this healing process, I’ve found I can eat more foods that used to give me digestive troubles. I can eat grains. I can eat beans in modest quantities. I can eat sugar. And I can even eat dairy. I’ve previously been dairy-free for 3 years, so this has been a newfound revelation. I can indulge in a lot of foods, and have even enjoyed foods I would have never allowed myself to eat previously. Chips. Candy. A rare soda. Of course, I’m not going crazy and bingeing and eating nothing but these “junk foods.” I have no desire to. It’s amazing – when you don’t make things “off limits”, suddenly they aren’t that appealing anymore. But if I want them, I can have them.

With these changes comes some interesting considerations. I’ve obviously labeled myself as a gluten-free, dairy-free, healthy eater. I’ve already been breaking through that identity some, but it’s still there. Generally, I have received little pushback from those around me for loosening up a little. I’m glad for it. But in the world of gluten-free living, there’s one line you should never ever cross:

Eating gluten.

And yet, with my digestive system in better shape than it’s been in many years, I’ve begun to wonder. Can I eat gluten? If I try, and I find that I can, what does that mean?

I realize I’m getting ahead of myself here. I haven’t tried it yet. While I don’t have celiac disease (I’ve tested negative and I don’t have the genes for celiac), I have in the past been sensitive to small amounts of gluten. But the same would happen with dairy, and dairy is back in my life and I’m feeling no ill effects from it. (In fact, my digestion is more regular and near-normal now than it has been for years.) This doesn’t necessarily mean I can handle gluten. I could try and find it to be a complete and utter failure.

But if I find I can eat gluten, then what? Will I still be part of the gluten-free community? How would this impact my place in the community? I will certainly continue to cook gluten-free for the most part. I have family members that eat gluten-free, and I’m always cooking and baking for them. I still strongly believe that the gluten-free community needs support and of course, delicious recipes.

The majority opinion in the gluten-free community seems to be that if you have ever had a gluten intolerance, you can’t recover from it and you will be gluten-free for life. You will be doing damage to your health if you stray. There is so much we don’t know about the hidden effects of gluten, and we don’t know everything about celiac disease. And so on. I’ve read it. I’ve preached it. I’ve lived with that belief for a long while now. I even went so far as to believe that gluten was bad – for everyone.

I already feel like I have a lot of crow to eat. I no longer believe gluten is bad for everyone – people have been eating gluten for thousands of years with no issues. I believe instead that issues that people are dealing with today can sometimes be caused by gluten – celiac disease, for one, is a real and serious thing – and I also believe there are people with compromised digestive systems that cannot digest gluten. But I now wonder if that’s truly a “forever” thing, and I think that perhaps a compromised digestive system is caused by a myriad of reasons, not merely because of the “evil” gluten.

But if I no longer “live” a gluten-free diet, will that mean I am “out”? Do I lose respect in the community? Do I lose identity? Admitting my mistaken beliefs on the personal side is tough in and of itself. Explaining it in the blogosphere is different. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to face, and I’m still wrestling with how to handle it. I’m willing to take whatever is thrown at me, but it’s definitely a change.

What I am realizing, however, is that it’s kind of disordered to identify “myself” with my diet. Sure, support is great. Necessary. But since when does what I choose to put into my mouth define who I am? I venture to say that I don’t lose identity at all. I don’t lose myself. In fact, I’m gaining a new appreciation for finding my way. I am feeling more free to explore and enjoy life and focus on so many other aspects of myself now, not just my diet. It always seems to be a natural thing – labeling ourselves, labeling others. But nothing is so black and white. Nothing is reduced so simply.

I am many things, but I am not my diet. I am me, and I’m fine with that.

Welcome (AKA Why Are We Here?)

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Many of you may know me from my other blog, Tasty Eats At Home, where I share gluten-free and dairy-free recipes and have been doing so for 5 years. Most of my posts are related to (hopefully) mouth-watering dishes that I make for friends, family, and myself, but some of you that have followed that blog for a while may know that I’ve also struggled with ongoing digestive issues even since removing gluten and dairy from my diet, and I’ve worked to find relief from those issues (as well as others). I’ve tried removing FODMAPs. I’ve tried eating grain-free/paleo. I’ve had allergy tests done in an effort to determine what was going on with my body, visited a gastroenterologist and had numerous tests done, and even visited an Integrative Medicine doctor to determine if there was any other way. I wasn’t totally vocal about all of this, as I felt like I couldn’t share completely what I was doing, lest you come to believe I’d found an answer to all of my issues. I hadn’t. My digestive issues have lessened over time, but I have a suspicion that has more to do with time to heal than any of the above.

But I also wasn’t vocal about my simultaneous struggle to stay slim and/or lose weight. This was a goal that started as an on/off goal well before I went gluten-free; but as I became more involved with healthy eating, it became less of a positive goal, and slowly crept its way into every fabric of my being. An obsession. I counted calories. (I still do.) I tracked my fiber intake. I lowered my carbs. I obsessed about protein. I eliminated food groups. I followed a mostly vegan, high-raw diet. I did Whole30s and thought I was gaining a healthier relationship with food, only to fall face-first into a batch of frosting later on. I never missed a morning workout, no matter how tired/sore/sick I might have been. I weighed myself daily, if not more often. I believed that if I just did the next best thing, somehow my body would be perfect and I will have found the miracle.

Instead, I found my way to a truly disordered relationship with food and my body. I still saw myself as…well, not fat, per se, but bigger than I wanted to be. I saw flaws. Cellulite. Squishy parts. Even if I was at my “leaner” weight (which was always heavier than my “goal” weight), I was only one sugar binge away from fat. I also was starting to lose my health. I was wearing my body down with a continuous cycle of insufficient calorie intake, too little rest from exercise, and incredible anxiety about it all.

And then something clicked. When I was getting close to running my first half-marathon earlier this year, I was running out of energy in the middle of long training runs. Five miles in, and I’d hit the wall. Truth is, I wasn’t eating enough. I was still trying to eat mostly paleo, and keeping my daily calorie intake around 1,400 (I might get to 2,000 on long run days). I wasn’t recovering quickly, I was losing strength (I lost my ability to do full push-ups during that time, even though I was doing them on a regular basis previously and never stopped.) and even more insane – I was gaining weight. It was during this time that I was wondering if something was wrong with me. I started to research about carbs and fueling for endurance, and started allowing more into my diet as a necessity. Shortly thereafter I found a little Facebook support group for people tired of diets and looking for balanced/healthy approach to eating. My world then shifted on its axis.

Since then, I’ve been EATING. Recovering. Becoming healthy. And more importantly, I’m working to let go. Let go of the anxiety. The body shaming. The obsession and struggle to be thinner, fitter, more perfect. I’m forgiving myself for only wanting perfection, and learning to be happy and in love with me. I’m hoping through this blog to not only share my personal stories, but also help break down the body-shaming, the dietary dogmas, and the misinformation that is so prevalent throughout the media, the diet industry, and into everyday life. It’s a journey, but it’s one well worth the time. Won’t you join me?