Food for Thought #5: Health vs. Weight Loss

I’ve covered cooking mistakes, having heart and finding creativity, holistic health, and self-love. I know what you’re thinking.
Ok so love is great and everything, but what do I eat????
I know. It boils down to that for me too. Food. Always. Really good food.

milkshakes can be part of a whole foods breakfast!

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.

garden-fresh lunch

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!

Nourished Kitchen has a guide to Getting Started with Real Food
and love it too did a guest post on Paleo Parents: “Eating real food with little time or money”

whole foods snackeroo

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”.

whole foods dinner. oh momma…

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!)

one of my favorite whole foods – sweet potatoes! I’ll eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Food for Thought #4 Self-love, an introduction

Food for Thought #6 How Sweet Potatoes Can Save the World

More reading:

*GMOs are a whole ‘nother ball of wax and a topic for many many blog posts. If you want to learn more, start here.

Food For Thought #4: Self-love, an introduction

Last week I wrote about the four components of holistic health, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. There is one unifying element to help you achieve all these things. It is self-love. Even when I started eating healing food, began to recover from depression, got some semblance of balance over my emotions, and discovered my spiritual purpose: it wasn’t until I discovered how to practice self-love that things started coming together. I decided to focus on my health rather than just losing weight. I decided to start conquering fears that were holding me back and began living an extraordinary life. I decided to open up and share my beliefs and ideas in order to help others.
I realized I needed self-love in my life, but for a while I thought the way to self-love was just the absence of depression. I didn’t know how to implement or actively practice self-love until I discovered Stefani Ruper’s blog Paleo for Women and her podcast Live.Love.Eat. Everything immediately resonated with me, especially the podcast. What is most captivating about Stefani’s work is her desire to share the stories of many women, not just her story, to create an empowering forum for women to take back their health, and to celebrate the beauty of all women, which I think can be extended to all people. Internalizing your concerns and fears turns you into a basket-case of anxiety and negatively weighs on all aspects of your health. There is no weakness in sharing your problems – in fact I believe it only strengthens a community when members seek out each other for support.
In my case, I took my problems and internalized them for many years, not wanting to complain to others or bring them down. I thought that if I told someone about my problems I would burden them with my pain. First of all, that wasn’t giving my friends and family enough credit. The real problem was that I couldn’t voice, and therefore acknowledge, my problems. I was wrapped up in a little ball of anxiety and solitude, even though sharing my problems brought such relief and led me to people who could help me find answers, like my brother or Stefani.

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.

Continue reading

Food for Thought #3: Trust Yourself

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

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Further Reading

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