Rebuilding a Healthy Food Relationship after a Restricted Diet

Before being on a restricted diet for 6 months, my relationship with food had always been pretty good. I really liked food, but I mostly wanted healthy food and had a decent amount of self-control when it came to junk food, in moderation.
Then I was pregnant and was trying to be really careful about what I ate, but it was hard because I wasn’t used to being SO HUNGRY and I felt that I needed to eat because I was growing a baby, even if it wasn’t healthy food.

When S was 2 months old, I cut out dairy because she had some signs of a dairy allergy. It helped, but she still had silent reflux, and the digestive issues I’d been having before I got pregnant with her had come back. So we decided it was best for both of us to do an elimination diet, and whole30 seemed like a good option, at least to start with – I wasn’t ready to cut out eggs on AIP! Whole30 itself went well and in many ways was really good for me, growing my cooking as well as introducing new habits and helping me find foods (especially things to snack on) that were good, cheap, and filling that weren’t just bread and carrot sticks.
The 30 days finished and I was so excited to reintroduce things and find out what had been bothering us, since symptoms had cleared up for both of us. But the reintroduction phase went wrong a couple of times, and I realized it was beets and almond flour that were the main problems for me. In the end, S was 6 months old before we knew what bothered her (gluten & dairy) and 8 months old before I could eat everything again, and I kind of went off the deep end, especially before I knew that I could eat gluten and dairy again (thinking “I’d better have ice cream again now, even though I had it yesterday, because tomorrow she may react to it again”).

People say that cutting out foods you crave can help you not crave them (especially sugary stuff) but I think after a certain point you instead begin to crave them MORE than you did before because it’s been so long since you had them. I’ve done 3-4 week sugar fasts in the past and always had success with them, so I was surprised with how instead of wanting sweets and processed foods less at the end of the restricted diet, I wanted them MORE. After 6.5 months, part of me wanted to eat everything no matter how unhealthy, and I was tired of salad, meat, and vegetables.

But then I was also struggling because in all of my recipe-searching while on a restricted diet I had been mostly reading and following blogs (many of which I still follow and had followed before) that villianized grain and dairy. So while on the one hand I wanted to eat a ton of that stuff, I also always felt really guilty about it when I did, even though I knew my energy levels had gone WAY up when I reintroduced grain. And as my weight crept back up, it was really easy to wonder if those things really were bad.

I was starting to get more of a handle on my eating habits when we moved to Japan and there were so many foods to try. And while Japan has a lot of healthy foods, there is also a lot of new and interesting junk food, and they have aaaamazing bakeries over here, and I find myself in more situations where junk food is right there for free.
Then I found out I was pregnant again, and was at a bit of a higher weight than I had wanted to be when I got pregnant again, which has helped me be a bit more careful with what I eat again, knowing that while I shouldn’t lose anything I can still keep it off or at least let the weight gain be healthy and not from junk or overeating. As my nutrient/energy needs have gone up yet again as I’m now pregnant AND nursing a toddler, my appetite has gone up a little, but not quite as much as before.

I hope that this baby doesn’t have digestive issues so I don’t have to go through an elimination diet again, but if I do, I think I’m more prepared this time because of things I’ve learned.

1. If you don’t want to eat it, keep it out of your house
This is pretty much common sense, but it’s harder than it sounds. For me the hardest thing is chocolate chips. 😉 But we only keep sugar for kombucha, and I don’t buy other junk food. If we’re given it I usually bring it to events so we don’t eat it all, if any of it.

2. Get accountability
Preferably someone right there with you! I am almost at the end of a 6-week food/exercise tracking thing and while it’s helped I have found that I’m much more influenced by what people around me are eating than what people online think about what I’ve eaten.

3. Know WHY you eat the way you do
This is why I had so much self-control on the restricted diet. I knew that if I ate something, it could make S flare up, which would a) be no fun and b) delay or confuse reintroducing foods. It’s harder when there aren’t such clear reasons for it, but it’s still good to remember and think about and decide why you’re drawing lines where you are.

4. Know what Works for you
Some people are fine with almond flour and can cook with it a lot and claim it’s a healthy alternative to grain. I disagree for a lot of reasons, the main one being that it and coconut flour are much harder for me and family members to digest than grain is. I can’t say whether or not grain has the long-term health issues that people claim it does, but I do know that I need it short-term. There was a night and day difference when I reintroduced grain, despite me eating plenty of carbs when I was grain-free.
And so after lots of guilt for eating grain, I just have to remind myself that it may not be right for others, but I seem to need at least some with most meals. I do try to keep it a side so I can focus more on protein and produce, and if I have a very grain-heavy meal like pasta I try to keep at least one of my other meals that day grain-free. While I don’t think grain is evil I do think that produce, not grain, should be the base of the food pyramid.

5. Focus on what everyone agrees on
There is SO much disagreement when it comes to what’s healthy and what’s not. Butter? Grain? Almond flour? Whole milk? Skim milk? … but what everyone seems to agree on is that the more processed a food is, the worse it is for you, and that refined sugar is the worst. This is also my theory as to why so many people feel better and lose weight when they cut grain or do Trim Healthy Mama – because they’re no longer eating all the refined food.

6. Have a plan for coming out of a restricted diet
I hope I don’t have to deal with this again, but if I do, I want to have a goal and accountability for how much of what I haven’t been eating I’ll allow in at a time so I don’t go off the deep end enjoying foods I missed.

I’m still finding exactly what works, especially as far as how much/when to allow junk food in moderation (a whole piece of cake once a week? Two bites of dessert whenever it’s there? only if it’s something really spectacular?), but these things have helped me so much as I’ve tried to find balance with food again after being on a restricted diet for 6 months.

But the most important thing?
7. Renew Your Mind
Without our desires changing, there won’t be lasting change! Some helpful tools can be found here.

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