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Friday, January 8, 2016

Establishing a Healthy Relationship with Food for 2016

Ever since I was a child, I have had an unhealthy relationship with food. I have never been medically overweight, though during lupus flares I've toed the line on the BMI scale just between ideal and "overweight." Having big breasts for my body also meant that sometimes I could look heavier than I was. When asked friends and family if I should lose weight in my more insecure days, I was always told, "It's up to you. You're okay where you are, but if you want to lose some then go for it." In my head, that translated to, "YES YOU'RE DISGUSTING LOSE WEIGHT!"

In my teens, I developed anorexia nervosa and was finally medically classified as underweight. Although it was Hallelujah moment for my disorder, when my mom tried to get me checked into a treatment center, they told me I actually wasn't thin enough for my frame. This meant I wasn't a good anorexic,  but rather a failure at starving myself.

Throughout my early 20s, I held fast to disordered eating habits, but wasn't eating disordered. I purged when my feelings were too intense for a situation, stopped eating for a few weeks after a break-up, but all in all, I was classified as "normal."

In my last year of college, my lupus symptoms began to rear their ugly head. A couple of years later, I felt so out of control of my body that I began to restrict and purge again, desperate to retain some kind of order. This time, I was hospitalized, but without actually being underweight. I caught it early, too exhausted to deal with being anorexic (which is a full-time job, by the way), adjusting to life with lupus and trying to live the life I was trying to design for myself in my early 20s.

Nowadays, you could say I'm recovered, or have been recovered for a while. But there are still things I hold fast to. For example, I try never to drink something with calories in it unless it is a special treat. I'm also estimating the calories in food before consuming it and beating myself up if I go over a certain limit.

Due to my past health issues, I've had a lot of trouble staying at my regular weight and often finding myself gaining and losing the same few pounds. It's worth it to say that my diet, despite my vaguely disordered thinking, hasn't really been very healthy. Even when I was anorexic, my diet consisted of only "empty" calories with very few nutritionally sound choices.

Dealing with lupus and now endometriosis has added a layer of shame onto my diet in that now it is trendy to purport that diet cures all. I was actually told by a former friend that I was perpetuating my own cycle of lupus because I refuse to try the paleo diet. I've been preached to in every form: paleo, vegan, clean eating, Mediterranean diet, anti-inflammatory diet, blood type diet, etc., etc., each with so-called "scientific evidence" to back up the fact that it has cured someone of lupus. And of course, with the bold statement that everyone who fails to follow it is a heathen who wants to wallow in their own disease. It's a modern day form of religion, where heresy and sin cause illness and instead, not adhering to an unscientific random diet causes doomsday.

I admit, when hearing these things, I often become rather defensive about it. I don't like others judging my food choices because I do that enough myself. It is highly insulting, and frankly ridiculous for people to think they know how to cure a disease they're not familiar with, but I digress. Although quick anecdote on that vein: The former friend that said he could cure lupus with the paleo diet asked why someone with lupus would go on immunosuppressants, questioning why anyone would want to suppress their own immune system. Clearly, you should be taking advice from someone who doesn't even know the basics of the disease, but I digress....

Part of the reason I think I've had trouble gaining and losing the same few pounds is a lack of physical activity. When I'm not in pain, I'm actually one of those people who likes going to the gym. And when I lived in walkable cities, I really loved the time to myself to take the long way to work or school or from the bus/tram stop. It gives me ample time to think, and I've noticed that my anxiety is a lot worse when I'm not doing regular exercise. But, when pain gets in the way, it makes it a lot more difficult to stay physically fit.

So this year, I'm calling for a change. 

Would I like to lose those last few pounds for good? Yes, of course. But instead, I'm experimenting with something new.

This year, I'm not going to beat myself up for not being able to exercise yet. I'm going to listen to my body and start a regime again as I'm comfortable, building up slowly over time, until one day I'm back to normal.

As for my food choices, I'm doing something different to attempt to build up both a healthy diet and a healthy relationship with food: I'm trying plant-based intuitive eating.

Okay, okay, I know it already sounds like some sort of fad cure all mumbo jumbo. But hear me out.

Firstly, I hate 90% of meat. Beef and pork have always left me feeling slightly strange afterward. Turkey is okay, but cooked certain ways has a very funny taste to me. Chicken is, perhaps, the only meat (aside from salmon and prawns) that I'll willingly eat--and even then cutting it out of my diet would hardly cause a massive upheaval.

So why not just go vegetarian?

Well, I was basically vegetarian anyway, but not always making healthy choices. Cutting out dairy products (which I was allergic to as a child anyway) makes it a lot easier to pick healthier options. Simply trying for the past couple of days to be plant based, I've noticed myself snacking on healthier options like fruit and nuts instead of reaching for something that's probably not the best for me.

Keeping It Real

Though I am attempting to be plant-based, I am not calling myself vegan. Why? Because I'm not 100% cutting everything out, only drastically reducing it. This way, if I'm out and stuck for options, I can still order something on the menu that's as close to the diet as possible, even though it doesn't stick to it 100%. For example, recently, I chose to eat carrot soup instead of a panini for lunch. While carrot soup does contain milk, the milk in it is far less than the panini's dairy contents, and it's actually more nutritious.

Personally, I feel like going 100% all in in any diet (that isn't medically, as in actually medically, not some woo, or religiously based) can lead to massive mental issues for people. And for myself, I don't think going 100% vegan would ever be healthy for me. Over time, I can see how people start to beat themselves up for making "wrong" choices and how damaging it is to demonize certain foods. I don't believe that any one diet can cure lupus, so that notion is completely let go of. And if I've learned anything from eating disorder clinics, its that cutting out entire food groups completely if you have no medical or religious need for it can really impair your thinking. And it's time to change that.

I'm also giving up calorie counting, meaning instead of living on the MyFitnessPal app, I'm going to only eat when my body is hungry and reach for something fresh and nutritious.

Will I still have a "cheeky Nandos" (trolololol) every now and then? Certainly. Will I allow myself an occasional ice cream at the movies? Definitely.

But, now I'm simply changing my diet to a way that I know can help me meet my nutritional goals, instead of the goals of the numbers on the scale. And hopefully, the rest will fall into place.

After all, we're all so much more than a number on a scale.

This year, health comes before an unattainable and baseless (and frankly unrealistic) desire to be a stick thin.

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  1. Sounds like a very sensible approach to food that suits you. I know I couldn't do that type of eating. I'm followiNg The bodycoach Principles most of the time and that works for me. Carbs on training days and fats on non training days. Do I stick to it 100% - no but I'm realistic and believe in treating yourself and not beating yourself up over the odd chocolate muffin. Lost those stubborn pounds and happy with my weight for once. It's a nice feeling. Good luck with the plant based diet. :)

    1. I think a lot of these diets are impossible to sustain fully. I've talked to a lot of people who are vegan and it seems to be something people do several days a week or do for a few months and then eat dairy again and then go back. Vegetarianism is more sustainable as there are so many other options. But yeah, kind of a tangent to say that beating yourself up for veering off your diet a little bit is totally unhealthy. I think people like Freelee (the Banana woman) kind of go a little crazy because your diet starts to control your entire life. And that is definitely unhealthy.

      I am so glad you're happy with your weight and found something that works for you! xx

  • Good for you, Anna - this all sounds really sensible. It feels like so many people live by food 'rules'. Whether that's vegetarianism/ veganism/ calorie counting/ fasting/ no sugar etc., they all come with an element of what you can and can't do. What happened to just eating well when you're hungry? I'm not saying that these things are bad necessarily, but they can take away a lot of the general intuition and mindfulness of eating. I think your approach of eating a more plant based diet, without feeling the need to stick to it 100% is more attainable and easier to sustain, especially as you're not really denying yourself things you like (due to the fact you wouldn't be missing meat for example). This was a really thought provoking read - thank you.
    Jennifer x
    Ginevrella | Lifestyle Blog

    1. Exactly, I totally agree with you on it making you crazy. This former friend who said I wanted to be sick told me that I should try Paleo with NO CHEATING in order to cure lupus. Firstly, it is all bullshit, and secondly that is a ton of pressure to put on yourself with a very expensive and not super sustainable diet. Obviously if it is medically necessary, you have an incentive not to cheat, but yeah...I always feel like completely cutting out food groups makes you crazy in your head! xx

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