Someone messaged me the other day in response to my last blog post and pointed out that though I may currently have “commitment issues” in most aspects of life, I do seem to be incredibly committed to sticking to my restrictive diet regimen throughout my Lyme and SIBO recovery. She asked how I maintain being so diligent with my diet during the high’s and low’s of this health journey, how I keep up with having prepped food around the house, and how I eat restrictively in a way that isn’t disordered. I thought about her message for a few hours before responding, and while writing a message back to her I realized I could write an entire post about this topic… So, here I am. Before I get too far into this post I do want to warn anyone who is currently battling an ED or is in ED recovery that this post may be triggering. I’m simply sharing my experiences and how I find balance in my current situation, but by no means am I suggesting that my diet is normal.
My Food Journey
In the wellness space, “intuitive eating” has become a common term for people to describe their diet in a way that isn’t restrictive, non-inclusive, or misleading. Labels are becoming less mainstream, for lack of a better word, in an effort for people to distance themselves from restrictive habits that develop out of these strict frameworks. I totally get it. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I’ve had an eating disorder, but I certainly experienced food-related anxiety after learning about how horrible certain ingredients and foods are for our bodies; even ingredients and foods that most of society deem “healthy.” Eating out at restaurants felt like a crime against my body, meat and dairy were completely out of the question, and processed foods or sweets were no longer a consideration. I lasted about 10 months as a strict vegetarian, but after a few months of amenorrhea (lack of a menstrual cycle) I decided to incorporate high-quality animal protein back into my diet. My time as a vegetarian truly enlightened me about using food as fuel. We aren’t really taught at a young age that we eat food in order to nourish our body, not just to satisfy our taste buds. Vegetarianism forced me to be mindful about my meal choices and to read ingredient labels thoroughly, and once the initial shock wore off about how toxic our food industry is I did find a balance that worked for me.
For the past 4 or so years I have still stuck to a predominantly plant-based diet as a means to reduce my carbon footprint and not contribute to inhumane animal conditions. In retrospect, living plant-based always left me lacking satiation, my weight constantly fluctuated, and my menstrual cycles were unbearable. For the past 4 months my diet has been based off of the SIBO Specific Diet (SCD), which means that I am eating lots of healthy fats, vegetables, pastured eggs and meat, some dairy, a little bit of fruit, and no grains. If you’re not familiar with SCD, this is a great resource that explains which foods are and aren’t suggested. I eat high-quality, local, pasture-raised, free-range meat and diary almost daily (that’s a mouthful, I know). Lyme disease and SIBO aside I feel that this diet works incredibly well for me. My weight seems to be at a constant, my cravings are minimal to none, and my cycle is both regular and almost painless. I no longer believe that eating plant-based is always optimal, but that’s a post for another day… It felt necessary to portray this part of my story before totally diving into the rest of the post. We all have unique journeys with our health and our relationship to food. Mine happened to start with a Netflix documentary and a decision to become vegetarian.
diet is self-care
My outlook on food differs immensely today compared to when I first started learning about the agriculture industry and the role food plays in our health. My body is sick, and every time I sit down for a meal I have the opportunity to do something kind for myself. It’s an act of self-care that is probably #1 on my priority list right now because when I don’t stick to my restrictions I wind up completely debilitated. The consequences just don’t outweigh the immediate satisfaction, and I don’t even think twice about my food choices anymore. I know what I can and cannot eat, and I am okay with living within those parameters for the time being.
The most difficult part about eating with restrictions has been learning to be okay with being an inconvenience. Eating restrictively can make social eating quite difficult. I never thought I’d be the person who sends their order back at a restaurant when it’s not right, but I am now that person. And frankly, it’s not even a big deal! What I’ve learned from my experiences thus far is that you have to commit. It always makes me feel uncomfortable when I have to list off a bunch of changes to my order at a restaurant or I can’t eat a dish that someone prepared at a dinner, but playing koi about my dietary restrictions typically leaves me with a very upset stomach and overwhelming regret. My family and close friends are very supportive of my dietary needs, and always do what they can to be accommodating. If someone in your life continuously gives you grief for the way that you need to eat to continue healing, then perhaps that relationship should be reconsidered.
diet vs. dieting
I’ve gotten some push back from anti-diet culture supporters on social media for sharing my restrictive diet. The concept of dieting is, in my opinion, outdated and typically not sustainable long-term. I support the idea that food possesses the power to heal. I am currently on an SCD diet in an effort to help heal my gut issues, but I am not dieting. There is a drastic difference between the two, and I recognize that eating restrictively can be a slippery slope for some. However, I don’t eat the way I eat out of a disordered behavior or as a means to lose weight; I eat this way to do my absolute best to get my body back to optimal health and to have some sort of control over my quality of life. Additionally, eating a restrictive diet in no way implies ignoring hunger cues or under-eating. I have days where I am overwhelmed with nausea form antibiotics and can barely get a few grain-free crackers down, but I also have days where I manage to squeeze in 4 full meals between all of my supplements and antibiotics. On more typical days I have 2 full meals with a snack or two depending on my hunger levels. The list of foods I can eat is restricted, yes. However, restriction is not necessarily synonymous with deprivation.
batch cooking + cravings
I am currently unemployed, and spend most of my time and energy on healing. This is a luxury I know many people dealing with a chronic illness don’t have; and eating healthy, working full-time, undergoing treatment, detoxing, and managing everything else that comes with chronic disease sounds absolutely impossible to me. I truly commend the humans that manage to juggle it all. To make life a smidge easier, I highly recommend batch cooking over the weekend or on a day off. Spend a couple hours in the kitchen making a bunch of veggies so that you have something to grab when you are hungry and exhausted at the end of the day. Throwing pre-roasted veggies on a bed of spinach and whipping up a fried egg or a pan-seared chicken breast is almost effortless. We all have the same amount of hours in our days, so it’s just a matter of prioritizing time in the kitchen. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so if you are battling a chronic illness and know that diet plays a crucial role in your healing than don’t feel guilty for taking this time.
As far as cravings go, there are SO many recipes out there today that imitate foods that are not recommended for people with autoimmune and chronic illnesses. The concept of cravings has a negative connotation, but cravings are our bodies way of giving us cues. For example, when I am on my period I almost always crave red meat. This is likely a result of a mild iron deficiency due to the bleeding. Additionally, one of my favorite treats at night is having 100% dark chocolate with a little bit of yogurt and almond butter. I crave chocolate at night, which is commonly interpreted as meaning that there might me a magnesium deficiency present. Chocolate in any form is not SCD compliant, but I don’t seem to have an adverse reaction. Stay in tune with your cravings and try to figure out what your body is really asking for. Our body possesses the power to communicate with us, but we as a society are conditioned to think that craving sweets or fatty foods or carbs makes us “weak.” Try listening to your cravings in a new light. Try using them as a means of guiding your intuitive eating. There is a lot of trial and error involved, and the repercussions of guesswork aren’t ideal; but, there are always ways to satisfy your cravings.
meal prep for SIBO
I am diligently working on my eBook “Meal Prep for SIBO,” which will be an all-in-one guide on prepping food for the week while dealing with gut problems. In it you’ll learn more about SIBO and why it manifests, the diets that are recommended for healing SIBO, how to shop seasonally with SIBO, a grocery list for all the recipes in the guide, along with 12 low-FODMAP recipes! Be sure to subscribe to my mailing list so you don’t miss the drop!