I don’t know what it is about mid-August, but it has me in the recap mood. Maybe it’s because I want to hold on to the last few weeks of traditional summer, even though fall doesn’t start here in Chiba until Halloween. Maybe it’s because I prefer to spend my weekends lounging around reading historical fiction or children’s fantasy books, my usual summer tradition going back to when I was 8 or so. At least now I’m old enough to drive myself to the library when I run out of books.
Yet with all my health struggles, I’ve been wrapped up in worrying about what foods were causing me problems (aka what I was eating/doing wrong) when really I needed to focus on a whole foods diet, eliminate toxins, and prioritize regaining my health.
What are whole foods? Foods that are unprocessed and unrefined. Foods that do not contain added ingredients or, more likely, chemicals. If you can’t pronounce it – it is not a food. Simple as that. Generally, the more packaging something has, the further away it gets from being a whole food and the closer it gets to being a frankenfood. These are products that are not foods at all, but a concoction of chemicals, GMOs*, and what used to resemble food. This fake food is equally addicting, yes addicting, and damaging to your health – think diabetes, exacerbated thyroid disorders, PCOS, obesity, and the whole litany of health issues plaguing us today. It’s not only about physical health, but holistic health. I know the terrible emotional and mental disruption and pain that is caused by eating fake food products and how these addicting substances can break the healthy relationship between mind and body.
No one deserves that. I’m not trying to judge or condemn the way people eat. I’m just trying to get everyone to recognize the difference between real FOOD and a concoction of packaging, chemicals, and unhappiness pushed on us by companies that care neither for our health or well-being but simply profit. I don’t want people to have diabetes, thyroid disorders, or any chronic health condition – I want them to be educated and empowered about their health. I don’t want people to suffer needlessly from the damaging emotional affects of addictive “food substances” – I want them to be happy!
Eating whole foods will make you feel better. You’ll be released from addictive substances found in fast, packaged and processed “food”. You won’t be blaming yourself for what you eat or feel out of control with constant cravings and mood swings. You will feel healthy, alive, and ready to tackle the beautiful mess that is life. Trade chemicals and addiction for scrumptious real food and happiness.
One easy step to start a whole foods journey? Start reading labels. People with food allergies are probably already used to this, but pay attention to what ingredients are in your “food”. If you can’t pronounce it, it isn’t food and you shouldn’t be eating it! Better yet, buy things without labels. Fish, sustainably-raised meat, poultry, and eggs, raw fruits and tons of vegetables are the easiest examples. Of course your diet is not this limited, because, first of all, there are so many things you can do with vegetables. I make quick pickles, soups, as many salads as there are cuisines to match, smoothies, curries and stir fries galore. Roasted vegetables are one of the most perfect foods, in my opinion. For carbs, I love all things squash – kabocha, butternut, acorn, etc – and of course my beloved sweet potatoes. I find these foods deeply satisfying, health-promoting, and happiness-inducing. But don’t listen to me alone!
For those of you who eat grains, whole foods can include things like brown rice and quinoa, etc. Beans are an option for some. Just make sure to buy things in as close to their original form as possible. Some of my favorite non-GMO brands are: Bob’s Red Mill (healthy grains, gluten-free flours, etc), Arrowhead Mills (quinoa), Eden Foods, Muir Glen (BPA-free canned tomatoes), US Wellness Meats, Lundberg Family Farms (for rice and wild rice), Mountain Herb Rose (cacao nibs and tea), Nutiva (coconut, chia and hemp), and Tropical Traditions (everything on that site!). More lists of GMO-free foods here.
Once you’ve mastered the habit of reading labels and recognized that frankenfoods do nothing but harm your body, no matter how great you “think” it will taste, you can move on to making more foods at home. I also make a lot of my own foods to avoid preservatives: when I can have nuts, I make my own almond milk. Making your food becomes increasingly important if you have to go on an elimination diet or other type of health-repairing eating plan.
Even though I already consider myself to eat a whole foods diet, I still have a lot to learn. I needed to quit microanalyzing every kind of food I ate and how it was affecting my weight-loss, and instead focus on the whole picture – my overall health. I’ve shed the anxiety that always came with trying to control my diet in order to lose weight. I’m much more at ease when I eat to be healthy rather than try and restrict and cut back in order to lose weight. Why we think deprivation is the norm is baffling to me – it is neither healthy physically or mentally. It’s easier to make healthy choices when I focus on improving my health rather then wrestling with body image.
That new, relaxed mindset also makes it much easier to eat a restricted diet in order to improve health conditions. Currently, in order to heal my PCOS, I am not eating fructose in any form (aka fruit), nuts, beans or legumes, grains, and the usual culprits of gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar. I remember two years ago I balked at the thought of not eating any sugar or even fruit. But that was brain-panic, covering up the real truth of what my body needed in order to get better. And now that I am focusing on HEALTH, it is frankly quite easy to overcome this challenge, because I know I’ll be able to eat fruit again in a few months or so after I’ve healed and avoiding certain foods will help me heal faster and more effectively. My health is more important than any temporal challenge of not eating Japanese peaches. As you regain your health, it is much easier to see the benefit of making careful food choices rather than panicking over what you will “lose”.
Speaking of losing, if you want to lose weight in the long term and keep it off? Then you need to forget about the word “lose” in any form – concentrate on being healthy instead. Especially if you are fighting some chronic condition, you aren’t going to be able to lose weight effectively if you aren’t healthy. Sometimes with certain conditions, rapid weight loss and adrenal-exhausting types of exercise can actually damage our health in the long term!** Luckily, most of the things you do to improve your health also work with weight loss goals, especially if you’re stuck in the lovely catch-22 of something like PCOS, where you need to lose weight in order to heal from PCOS, but you can’t lose weight effectively because you have PCOS! (Same goes for a lot of thyroid disorders)
So instead of getting lost in that quagmire of weight loss frustration, I’m taking charge with my new “gain health” plan:
1. eliminate toxins
Ok so what does that mean for me? Eliminating toxins and focusing on nourishing food – no more food from cans (BPA!), no more eating out where things are fried in vegetable oil, and watching what kind of packaging the food I buy comes in. This may seem daunting to some at first – don’t worry. Knowing what goes into your food is the first step. Email me if you are really lost, but start slow and make gradual changes. That way you can stick with a whole foods eating plan, rather than being overwhelmed and trying to do it all at once.
The Whole30 Plan might be an option for some of you who need extra guidance.
2. experience food
I have a bad habit of eating while standing, grabbing food and shoving it in my mouth, and just kind of eating without really paying attention to what I’m doing. So I am concentrating on preparing and enjoying my food – not shoveling stuff into my mouth mechanically while I do other work.
3. recognize the difference between a mind-based craving and what my body actually says
Most of the time I crave stuff because I see it or think about it, not because my body is really hungry or wanting something. This falls under my general rule of less thinking and more feeling.
4. No eating after 8pm This one is just more of a practical thing. I tend to make more mind-based, not body-based, choices about food as the evening wears on. Eating too close to bedtime stresses out my adrenals, and eating late it is usually some sort of mental or emotional response rather than a response to actual nourishment that my body needs. It’s just easier to make better choices earlier in the day. Set yourself up for success!
5. focus on healing
My health is one of my most important priorities, which is not only physical but also my emotional response to eating and my mental and spiritual health as well. When I focus on a long-term goal of healing, it is much easier to remain in tune with my body and keep practicing self-love.
Of course, this is all combined with a personal exercise program that includes yoga, running, swimming and strength training once per week. These are just examples of what I do. I think it is most important to exercise while doing something you like, so you continue to stick with it and enjoy it. Yoga and running make me feel good. Swimming is new so it keeps things novel and interesting in my routine. I do strength training because, while mentally I’m not in love with it, I feel stronger and know that I am stretching and growing in my ability. So don’t worry so much about what you think about exercise – just hold on to how good it makes you feel.
What ways are you gaining health in your life? What inspires you to exercise? What are your favorite whole foods?? (Next week I am going to talk about mine, and share some great new recipes!)
Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction
Food for Thought #6 How Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World
To practice self-love or to find your way back to health, you need a community, people to support you while you learn to love yourself. You need a place to be comforted when you don’t feel well, a trusted space to air your fears and find ways to conquer them. We all need to learn the right way to experience our emotions, even the negative ones like fear and anxiety, rather than burying them and thinking they are something weak or shameful.
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.
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
Disordered Eating – Paleo Pepper
First of all, I came home and I ate something. Crabbypants Kate appears much more easily when blood sugar levels are low. I didn’t eat while standing up, running around trying to put things away, or while whittling away my time on the computer. I just sat and ate and felt grateful for the food in front of me and the sunset gently folding behind the hills. Feeling is so important. One of the key aspects of food allergies or challenging yourself physically or mentally is to quit thinking so much and just pay attention to how you feel. Frumpy Kate on her frumpy bike ride home thought about all the things that weren’t going to make her happy – making dinner, reading books, writing the blog, living in a clutter-free environment – and guess what, she wasn’t happy (even though she loves all those things). Amazing coincidence, hey? You think you won’t be happy and you’re not. You think you can’t cook or you’ll screw up or it isn’t even worth it to try, and you’ve decided the outcome before even giving it half a shot. When you think something will be crappy, embarrassing, terrible, heartbreaking, worthless, whatever – it is going to be that way. What sort of effort you put in has no bearing whatsoever, because your mind is made up. You’ve decided the outcome: you’re not going to enjoy it no matter how hard you try, because your critical brain is screaming for some negative reinforcement, blocking you from paying attention to how you actually feel or how good you could feel.
This is why I say don’t let your brain beat down your heart. Our body knows what foods are good for us, while our brain holds on to certain ideas with a mixture of panic and nostalgia. No more white bread?!!! What the hell am I going to do? No sugar??? I’ll never be happy again! When in reality, if you pay attention to how you feel after eating food rather than letting your brain cling with a certain panic (even though your brain has no taste-buds), you discover that those trigger foods have been causing your unhappiness all along. Overthinking or negative thinking clouds the true joy in life, joy that should be experienced from the heart, not falsely created in the head.
What I really deserved that day was a chance to discover more happiness in my life. I deserve more than tv. I deserve a life where I feel happy, satisfied, and grateful. A life where I am willing to celebrate at any moment, large or small. Tv doesn’t give me that. So I’ve given up on it. I’ve given up on staying the same, which was pretty eye-opening in itself, given that I consider myself a person who is always striving to improve herself.
2. I’ve enriched my life by seeking and finding comfort and community:
– I discovered another inspiring and entertaining podcast, this one from the Spunky Coconut. I already love Kelly’s blog, and this podcast is a continuation of her energy and focus on natural living, creating new traditions with allergy-friendly food (grain-free, dairy-free Gooey Butter Cake anyone???), and doing it all in a family-friendly way.
– I’ve rediscovered Lillian’s Test Kitchen, a simultaneously light-hearted and heartfelt site run by a delightful woman and her funny videos. Lillian pours energy into finding and sharing answers about difficult food allergies and the chronic conditions they cause. She also shows you how to bake anything with hilarious videos and indefatigable joie de vivre. This site isn’t just for people with food allergies or health issues. It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to love cooking.
3. I’ve felt a new level of excitement about the direction of my life.
– I’ve been galvanized and downright exhilerated enough to share and write buckets lists – two on this blog and one with Bucket List Publications. I am working to be a more open person, and I would have previously never shared anything this personal with anyone, let alone published some of it on a blog.
4. I’ve begun to enjoy some domestic chores.
– I’ve rearranged my closet, wrestled my desk and living room from the grips of clutter, written 7 letters, planted zucchini, managed not to kill said zucchini, and even cleaned my sink more than once a week. I do it while listening to podcasts, which makes the obligatory tasks a little lighter.
5. I’ve been stretching my limits and growing.
– I’ve started training for a triathlon next year. Scary big leap. I prefer little hops, but I’m stretching myself. (I like the term stretching rather than pushing. Stretching implies growth and ambition. Pushing is too close to self-berating for me)
– Written, written, and written some more. More blog posts, more kanji practice, more letters, more collecting of stray thoughts, and more life plans and professional goals. Sometimes I am a little too enthusiastic now. Where I used to drop off right away at night, I’m usually awake for another hour thinking.
6. Discovering something we all seek – balance.
Despite that last little fact about being too excited to sleep, I think I’ve come to a balance. I know when my brain is being a bit too aggressive, and I do my best to ease back and let matters of the heart guide me, paying attention to how things make me feel – food, exercise, how and with whom I choose to spend my time – rather than how I think they will affect me (“I’m too tired, lying on the couch is better than doing yoga or going for a run.” Yeah. right. Usually I just end up eating too much and then feeling bad about myself, stuck again at square one but with even more unnecessary calories and unhealthy, self-defeating thoughts). I keep searching too – searching for answers on how to heal my PCOS, searching for answers on the most effective way to help you improve your lives, searching for answers on how to live in harmony with the environment and do it joyfully.
You can’t find those things with tv, or even just your brain. Your brain helps a good deal more than tv, especially when you are thinking positively, but giving up on tv means I’ve found something much more important. I’ve found my spirit.
Food for Thought #1: When You Are Afraid to Make Mistakes
Food for Thought #3: Trust Yourself