Although it took me a lot of years to realize this, finally accepting that food should be an ally has been a HUGE revelation for me. My personal relationship with food has been a really interesting one. It’s been filled with ups and downs, rocky roads (pun totally intended) and more than one wrong turn.
Truth be told, I have always been one of those people who eats to survive. I never remember a time in my life when I was ever obsessed with food, or turned to it for emotional support or to fill a void that I wasn’t getting in another part of my life. I also have never really had an issue putting down my fork when I am full and very rarely eat out of boredom. Food doesn’t bring me any real pleasure. In short, I eat because I have to.
While this doesn’t sound at all like a bad thing for maintaining a healthy weight, it honestly has caused me quite a bit of trouble in the past. For me, my struggle with food comes in the form of poor nutrition mostly due to indifference. For a very long time, I simply would eat easy, quick items such as crackers or pretzels that I deemed “healthy” because they were ridiculously low in fat. Back in my twenties (I am pushing 40 now….please don’t repeat that!) my idea of a healthy diet was eating food that contained less than 3 grams of fat per serving. I kid you not, I would only buy things that met this criteria because I was much more concerned with the size of my waist then fueling my body with the nutrition I needed. If I was a size zero I was doing it right was my mentality. Wow, how insane right?
I paid no attention to the nutritional value of food, instead just grabbing the easiest, no fuss option I had in my cabinet usually while I was running out the door to work. I could literally go days without eating much more than dry cereal and some saltines. I ate as much as I needed to in order to get by without passing out but was careful not to take in more calories than I felt my extremely small pant size would allow. This was a crazy mix of complete indifference to my health and total obsession with not gaining a pound. Instead of seriously committing to a workout routine and healthy eating plan to achieve the body I wanted, I chose to just eat bland, nutritionally devoid food that lacked any calories or fat because I really didn’t care what it tasted liked anyway.
Fast forward to my late twenties, and my relationship with food took an even crazier turn. At about 28 I was diagnosed with A LOT of food allergies. I had started breaking out in rashes and hives while eating, my mouth would tingle and sometimes my throat would even begin to feel tight. After seeing an allergist and having a bunch of blood work done, I found out I was allergic to everything from wheat, to rice to barely, malt, hops and even oats. I have touched on this part of my life in other posts but just to re-cap, it was a shocking and scary thing for someone like me who pretty much existed on carbs and carbs alone. All of a sudden, all the eating habits (unhealthy as they were) that I had relied on for a good part of the past decade were instantly thrown out the window. Now instead of food being something I barely paid any attention to it was something I had to put a lot of thought into every time I had to eat anything. And there was no learning curve or time to adjust. From the very second I got the call from my doctor I had to immediately cut out everything that had been the go to staples of my everyday meal plan. No more crackers, cereal, pretzels, bagels, cookies, or even protein bars.
Needless to say, this required a massive shift in the way I thought about and handled food moving forward. Now eating for me required a lot of thought, planning and researching before I made any food choice. I had to be ultra aware of what I was eating which was hard enough when I was at home but close to impossible for me when I was eating out. You would really be surprised how many things have wheat in them like sauces, gravy, even Twizzlers, which I used to love!! I went from eating to survive to eating and hoping I would survive! Ok, that may be a little dramatic, but it does often cross my mind that I might eat something mistakenly and have to whip out my epi-pen to avoid my throat closing up on me. You would think this would have been a turning point for me in paying more attention to eating the right way and not just to avoid passing out. Well, that’s not exactly what happened.
Unfortunately, I really just fell back into the same bad habits I had before I developed the allergies. Once I got accustomed to the restrictions I now had, I just sought out quick, easy, grab-and go gluten-free options. While these options were fewer and more far between (also quite a bit more expensive), I managed to find crackers, pretzels and even some gluten free animal crackers that worked with the constraints of my diet and I went right back to eating with no thought to variety, nutrition or even really taste. This time I ate an even smaller variety of food and eating really became a chore.
It wasn’t honestly until about a few months ago that my attitude toward food really changed. I realized that I was getting out of my body what I was putting in and that was a huge reason I was feeling tired, bloated, anxious and borderline depressed. Once I added nutrition shakes to my diet things really clicked for me. It was that small change, just drinking one day, that really made the light bulb go on for me. I was clearly missing key vitamins and nutrients eating the way I had been for so long and as soon as my body started getting those things my life really changed. A few weeks into the the shake routine I had doubled my energy levels, I started sleeping better, my panic attacks decreased significantly and I was able to get in really good workouts that were producing results I have never in my life seen!
What the shakes also did for me was forced me to take a good hard look at food in a much different way than I really ever have. After experiencing what a huge difference the proper nutrition can have on so many aspects of my everyday life, I have started really investing in what I am putting in my body. I see food now as an incredible ally in being healthy, feeling good and achieving my goals. Before food was definitely the enemy for me. I viewed it as necessary evil. Today I actually look forward to exploring new recipes, trying different cuisines and finding ways to make delicious meals that also help my body perform at it’s best.
Food can be an incredible tool, if used right, to achieve physical, mental and even emotional health. Take a little bit of time and think about what you are going to eat. Put some thought into what goes into your body. Meal-prepping is a wonderful way I have found to stay on track for the week (I won’t go too much into that right now cause that topic in and of it’s self could be a whole post). Keep healthy snacks around, especially if you sit behind a computer all day long at work. Incorporate fruits and veggies as often as you can into meals. Small changes to start will have you seeing big results!
Eating is no longer a chore for me and that is a wonderful feeling!! Don’t let an unhealthy relationship with food, no matter what the nature of that relationship is, stand in the way of your health and well being guys. While I wish I would have learned this lesson sooner, i am SO SO glad I finally did. Better late than never!!