I have never had a stellar digestion. It was never awful and it was never super smooth either. I would often have cramps or bloating, usually in the evening.
In 2014, I spent six wonderful weeks in Dubai and this undercurrent of discomfort turned into a more constant companion. After six solid weeks eating away from home, everything seemed to cause me pain. And my skin, which has never been great either, suddenly felt like a battle field.
I knew I had to do something. My gut was clearly unhappy and my body was reacting to certain foods I was eating.
So I worked with a specialist who did a blood test which showed I was sensitive to gluten, dairy, soy and olives.
The solution? Take all these out and help my body to detox and heal itself through supplements.
So I did this. For nine months.
For nine months I was able to stick to this super strict diet and my digestion improved – with the help of probiotic food or supplements, I would even, very tentatively say it is now normal.
I’m not saying elimination diets are the solution for everyone. What I wanted to share was the effect this elimination diet had on my relationship to food.
Before studying nutrition, I didn’t have a very healthy relationship to food. I would swing from Boot Camp to Club Med mentality – severe restriction to out of control eating.
I then discovered Intuitive Eating and learned to listen to my body and give it what it wants to eat, to make nothing off limit, to eat mindfully. This greatly improved my relationship to food. And yet now, on this elimination diet, it felt like everything was off limit.
And guess what happens as soon as something is off limit? We become obsessed with it. And when it comes to food, in order to avoid eating something, we have to constantly be looking out for it. This is one of the reasons that diets don’t work.
Of course, I knew to expect this and from the beginning, I tried making sure I was in the right mindset. That I was doing this elimination diet for the right reason – out of love for myself, because I wanted to feel good in my body. I brought compassion to myself because it isn’t easy to exist in society on such a restricted diet.
And for the most part, during the 9 months of elimination diet, I was OK. I even created my simple meal planning online program, Healthy in a Hurry during this time because this was how I was eating most of the time.
I became ultra organized by always having something with me that I could eat, by bringing my own food when I was invited somewhere, by researching menus ahead of time and finding restaurants I could eat at. Instead of staying in hotels when we travelled, my husband and I staying at airbnb’s so I could make my own food. When we went to visit his family in Italy, I was armed with gluten-free pasta.
I became knowledgable about all the places in Geneva I could eat at – I shared my
favorite addresses in these articles. I even came up with my own, easy version of a latte because without dairy or soy, it’s virtually impossible to find one out of home.
And most importantly, I was really feeling the difference!
All this didn’t prepare me for the backlash I experienced when I started re-introducing all the foods that had been taken out after 9 months.
I felt out of control. There were foods I just couldn’t stop eating.
Mostly cheese. And butter. And bread. And a combination of both like fondue and pizza.
It was as if I had been holding a pendulum on one end – using a lot of control and deprivation – and when I let go, it swung to the other extreme.
I was surprised at how much my body felt out of control. And at the same time, I realized that this was also normal. I had been holding the pendulum so firmly and so long that this was my body’s normal reaction. After all, I could explain as much as possible how ‘we’ were doing this for the ‘right’ reasons, yet my body, like all bodies, has a will of its own. And the language it understands best is the language of wanting and not having.
And not having something -> scarcity -> it becomes more attractive -> we feel out of control when we can have it again.
My initial instinct was to grab the pendulum and try to take back control.
Yet I knew this would just lead to a struggle with food and my body.
So I let the pendulum simply be.
Again, I kept being kind to myself. Reminding myself that this was totally understandable. That it was OK. That my body could really have whatever it wanted. That nothing was off limit.
It was almost like I was telling my body: I know the last 9 months were really tough on us, and that you need to make up for lost time. I trust you’ll find more moderate ground in your own time.
Eventually, the pendulum started losing momentum. It started moving towards the middle. Cheese no longer felt like the holy grail. I could eat bread maybe once a week and not want more.
And now I feel my relationship with food has shifted.
Whereas before the elimination diet I would tell myself I could eat whatever I wanted, in my mind, I was still restricting certain foods. It was subtle though – almost as if I was convincing myself that I didn’t really want to eat bread because it wasn’t ‘healthy’. There wasn’t a complete allowance of everything, which is one of the principles behind Intuitive Eating, and in my opinion, the only way it can really work.
After the initial frenzy and my approach of total allowance, I noticed that all these previously ‘exciting’ foods no longer held the same appeal to me because I had fully allowed myself to eat them, while staying connected to my body, and how the food tasted and felt physically.
In fact, I would say that food in general now feels less exciting for me.
Not in the sense that I don’t care about what I eat (I do) – I just obsess about it less. My body trusts that there will always be more of the previously (even subtly) forbidden foods, so I can stop when I am satisfied. I no longer force myself to eat something ‘healthy’ that doesn’t light me up or stop myself from eating something less healthy that does.
I eat a little less ‘healthy’ than before, yet I feel my relationship to food is more healthy.
I wanted to share this experience because the only way not to be controlled by food or allow it to control us is to let go of the control / restriction pendulum. And I know this isn’t easy. That we must learn…
♥ To trust.
♥ To keep listening to the body even when it feels out of control.
♥ To truly allow all foods.
♥ To let go of the labels of ‘healthy’ ‘unhealthy’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and to really get curious instead about the actual experience of food. How does it feel in your body?
This is the only way the pendulum can find its way to the middle – meaning a healthy relationship to food, where we don’t feel we need to control or be controlled by food.
This afternoon, I found myself choosing a carrot while my husband ate an ice-cream. Not because it was the healthy choice. Not because ice-cream was forbidden (in fact, I had ice-cream yesterday). Simply because in that moment, my body preferred the crunch and freshness of the carrot. I’m not saying full allowance and Intuitive Eating means you will always choose a carrot over ice-cream.
It simply means giving yourself the freedom to choose what works best for you in that moment and being OK with whatever you choose.
Because really, it’s just food.
We don’t need to control it and it doesn’t need to control us. It doesn’t define our worth. And we can let go and allow our bodies to take over instead.