Health has a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual component. I’m a huge believer in holistic health, addressing issues from all four sides, because all these components are related. You can’t try and fix one alone and expect to heal. Physically, I’m challenged with the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Mentally, the complexity that comes with having an endocrine disorder sometimes leaves me with doubt that I will ever be fully “whole” – that is to say healed. Emotionally, the toll of eating foods that were fundamentally damaging for my system – for instance gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar – left me with patterns of emotional and stress eating habits that I still struggle with even on my new, healing diet. And spiritually, all of these factors sometimes take a toll on my hope for the future, though that is becoming less and less of a problem as I work through my issues while writing this blog and striving to help others.
If you go to My Story
, you can get the background on my struggle with weight loss, body image, and depression. When you are eating foods that you are intolerant to, everything becomes a greater struggle. These foods are working against your body, against you, and this can really mess with your emotions. So much of my depression and lack of self-worth came from the damaging cycle of eating foods that I could not tolerate. This created a terrible cycle of eating and depression: being addicted to trigger foods, which caused me to be depressed and to eat more as a way to “deal” with my depression. Then I lost self-confidence because I thought I didn’t have enough willpower and that I didn’t deserve to be healthy, when really my body was just not getting the nourishment it needed.
People get an adrenaline rush from foods they are intolerant too, producing intense cravings. Learning that fact was insanely liberating. There was nothing fundamentally “wrong” with me because I craved carbs and sugar and binged on them all the time. It was not my “fault” that I didn’t have enough “willpower” to resist eating these foods. It was just my body reacting to being constantly under attack. Releasing myself from these toxic, health-damaging, distressed emotion-triggering foods was one of the most important things I did for my physical and mental health.
When I was eating addictive and damaging foods like simple carbohydrates and massive amounts of sugar, I felt like I was fundamentally “wrong” as a person – flawed because I had to force myself to complete super-hard workouts, expend an enormous amount of painful, strict, self-berating willpower not to eat foods that were “bad”, and fight myself all the time in order to lose weight. In reality, my body was fatigued from the stress of combating constant attacks on my immune system (a result of eating those foods) and hard workouts that further exhausted my malfunctioning adrenal glands. My body would respond to the harsh mental vice I put myself in by craving the “bad” foods even more. So I thought that I was battling against my body and my mind. The real problem was that my damaged system was not getting foods that were nourishing, but rather toxic substances – again, gluten, dairy, soy and sugar – that were destroying my physical and emotional well-being.
Through eliminating foods that hurt me and supplementing with the right kind of exercise, I’ve gotten better over the years about fighting against myself, because the foods I eat are no longer “fighting back” but rather working with my body to heal. But years of troubled eating habits had left an undercurrent of doubt running deep in the channels of my brain. The emotional toll of eating a Standard American Diet was so stressful for my body and mind. Though I started to eat healing foods, mentally I still blamed myself when I wasn’t getting healthier (or skinnier) fast enough. Every time I learned about a new issue that someone struggled with in weight loss, I thought it might apply to me. Oh, maybe I’m a night eater? An overeater? Do I have this disease? I was covering up my real fear by trying to diagnose myself with all these issues I didn’t have. I was terrified of trusting myself.
I still am a little bit.
I wanted to CONTROL the way I ate, because when you have an auto-immune condition, it can feel like your body is spinning out of whack and all you can do is hold on and brace yourself for the crash. The only control you have is over the food you eat, or so it seems. Years of eating foods that triggered a vicious cycle of depression, overeating, and more depression covered up my body’s intuitive ability to seek out foods that were nourishing and healing. I felt like I couldn’t trust myself because somehow, if I let go of my rigid brain control, my body would find its way back to all those trigger foods and I’d be lost in that horrible cycle again. Really, trying to control my body, seeing it as separate from my mind, was working against my weight loss goals. Instead of weight loss, now I focus on health and working with my body, not separating myself from it.
The stress of maintaining such rigid mental control, seeing myself as a divided house where mind and body were at war, manifested itself in emotional eating. By trying to use mental control to lose weight, I wasn’t addressing my holistic health, just patching up one issue and tearing open a giant side effect in the next. I used eating as a way to combat anxiety and stress and also to avoid simply feeling certain emotions. I didn’t know how to deal with fear or loneliness, so I ate in order to avoid feeling things that I “shouldn’t”. In those days of gluten depression, sugar mania, and dairy-and-soy hormonal rollercoasters, I thought I didn’t deserve to feel certain things because, compared to the rest of the planet, I was so lucky in life. What right did I have to be depressed when I was privileged enough to have more than most people ever hoped for? It made me feel weak that I wasn’t living enough with all the bounty that I had. Also, this is where some of my depression regarding the environment came into play.
healthier ways to celebrate, eat, and enjoy life – sweet potato layer cakes
This disconnect that I had between my mind and my body was physically disrupted by the food I was eating. The disruption I experienced in my endocrine system, through hormonal imbalances, put me on an emotional rollercoaster. Mentally, this turned into a struggle to control the seemingly uncontrollable things that were happening to me. Spiritually, I began to doubt myself.
I felt like whatever I did was wrong. I harbored guilt from those days of depression and my lingering patterns of stress and emotional eating,. I had thought it was my fault that I was depressed, that there was something wrong with me, and then I discovered that the food I was eating played a huge role in my depression. So that meant I associated food with all my ailments. Now, while I am recovering from PCOS and living with Hashimoto’s disease, I still fall into the same trap of thinking food is the root cause of all my problems and that I am at fault for eating those foods and preventing myself from healing. I ate some carbs before bed, maybe that is why my adrenals are pumping and I can’t sleep at 3am?? What did I do wrong? What am I doing (eating) wrong? What will I do (eat) wrong? That brain tap-dance of self-blame and always thinking you are “wrong” or at fault is incredibly draining, physically and emotionally. Concentrating solely on weight loss and obsessing over what you are eating adds to that fatigue. I’ve shifted my focus to regaining my health rather than losing weight. I am alleviating my fear of not trusting my body by educating myself about my relationship between my brain, my body, and my food.
And the final component, the key that has been missing all these years, through a diet that was making me sick to a diet that is making me well, through a complete lack of exercise to finding the right balance of exercise, through letting go of the ideas of blame, fault, wrongness, lack of self-worth and embracing the emotions that make me feel terrifyingly vulnerable and alive, that key ingredient is self- love. More on that next week. Please tell your friends.
Food for Thought #2 Don’t Let Your Brain Beat Down Your Heart
Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction
Food Addiction Harder to Kick than Cocaine – Paleo Pepper
Curing Psychological Drivers of Binge Eating with a Paleo Diet – Paleo Pepper
Disordered Eating – Paleo Pepper
Neuropeptide Y, Appetite Macronutrients, and Yo-Yo Dieting, or Why Restriction Breeds Carb Addicts and Disordered Eaters – Paleo for Women