Throughout my six-year health journey, my relationship with food has changed time and time again. I started out eating the typical American diet full of dairy, gluten, processed foods, meat, sugar, and unhealthy snacks. Given that I'm 100% Italian, I was raised to eat foods (e.g., dairy and gluten) that would now cause my stomach to bloat to the point where it'd look like I was pregnant with triplets.
Although I didn't recognize how much food affected me until I got sick, looking back, I have never had the best relationship with food. In high school, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (well, your bowels would be irritable too if you were constantly wolfing down fried and lactose-laden foods all the time lol), had a lot of stomach pain, and was gassier than a hot air balloon. I'm sure my diet also played a role in how horrible my mental disturbances were during high school and college. Unfortunately, I didn't know any better to change my diet, but thankfully, things are better now.
These days, I use food as a healing modality because I'd rather not consume things that make me feel and look like doodoo, putting it scientifically ;) At times, people see how I eat and many give me praise, but most don't know the full story of what led me to where I'm at today. More often than not, people have general questions for me that would take too long to answer verbally, so I wanted to put together a Yoolie-themed FAQ for those interested in learning more about my journey.
This post will be a little lengthy, so feel free to skip around and read the questions and answers that pique your interest :)
When did your relationship with food start changing and why?
In 2012 I had a copper intrauterine device called the Paragard placed inside of me. Within months, my physical and mental health deteriorated due to copper toxicity. I went to see a new doctor and he suggested that we test me for celiac disease (I don't have it, just a very strong inflammatory response to gluten), while also recommending that I try cutting back on dairy and processed foods.
I had gained a lot of weight at this time, my face looked like a swollen tomato, and I was constantly in pain, so I figured I could give up bread and cut back on dairy at the very least and see what would happen. Thankfully, the doctor's advice paid off and I slowly but surely started feeling better.
What different "diets" have you tried?
I have tried A LOT of the diets out there, and some have helped me and others have made things worse. I started out going gluten free, as I mentioned above, and then I cut out dairy completely. From there, I removed processed foods, and shortly thereafter went paleo. Then, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's, which is an autoimmune disorder, so I started eating autoimmune paleo (AIP).
Unfortunately, AIP recipes include a lot of high-histamine foods, which negatively affected my health, so I focused on eating low histamine. Unfortunately, I started reacting to a lot more foods so my diet was literally anything I didn't react to aka roughly ten things. Now, I am vegan, and have been slowly reintroducing food over time.
What is your diet like now and why?
I currently eat vegan and am still gluten free. I try to eat whole food vegan as much as possible, meaning that I eat produce and try not to buy packaged products (except for those lovely bagged plantain chips I love so much <3). To be honest, I was one of those people who thought they would never go vegan. I thought I would always be hungry without meat in my diet. I thought that my health would get worse without it because of a lack of nutrients. But after some convincing from one of my health mentors, I decided to take the plunge, and I am SO thankful I did.
I've found that animal products + me = a HUGE NOPE. I just couldn't digest meat well and I was always bloated. It made my Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms flare. I could feel the food just hanging out in my gut. My cystic acne wouldn't heal when those buggers popped up. And once I learned how meat can putrefy in your gut and intestines as it's being broken down I got over my fear of not being able to "live" without meat pretty quickly.
I had already removed dairy years ago, but continuing to not eat it means I'm not ingesting the antibiotics and hormones that are pumped into dairy cows. Dairy is also mucus-forming, which creates an environment in your body that doesn't lend itself to healing. Now, I try to focus on astringent foods as much as possible. Plus, you know, there's that whole thing of not eating our furry friends and other animals <3
What have been your motivations for continuing to mix up your diet?
To be honest, to start it had to do with vanity. I am a tiny Italian woman. I am not meant to be carrying an extra 30-40 pounds, and it isn't healthy for me to do so either. So, at first it was weight loss, and then I realized a lot of the foods I were eating were inadvertently causing horrible cystic acne breakouts, which also motivated me to eat better.
Over time, I also started taking the advice of different healthcare practitioners I trusted, including a nutritionist.
What have you learned about your relationship with food?
Point blank, food used to be a drug for me. I'd use sugar for a boost of energy. I'd use carbs and dairy to comfort me when I was sad. If I needed to be happy I'd down chocolate. I was addicted to the way that food made me feel without realizing it. I wasn't using food as a means to survive but to gorge myself and dull the emotions and thoughts that I wasn't ready to deal with.
Of course, I believe you can use food to celebrate and to indulge but moderation is key ;)
What is your relationship with food now?
I view food as medicine, and recognize that sometimes that does mean emotional comfort. But more often than not, I map out my daily food plan to ensure that I am eating things that are promoting detoxification of all the lovely toxins I have in my body instead of either creating more or trapping them in mucus. Overall, I try to use food to sustain. I don't eat until I'm so full that I feel like I'm going to explode anymore, although of course that happens from time to time.
Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to my relationship with food, as I'm sure most of us can say. Since I started reacting to so many foods over the years to the point where I was eating less than 10 things, I began to fear food. I didn't want to reintroduce anything for fear of getting a horrible cystic acne breakout or a bloated belly attack that would leave me in pain. I still fear food, but I'm working on overcoming it.
I also had a lot of OCD surrounding food - it had to be prepared by me; I had to control every facet of my food. And, I definitely still have a lot of issues with orthorexia, which is defined as "an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy." I still have some work to do, but overall, my diet is MUCH better than when I started this journey in 2012.
So, how do you do it?
I get this question A LOT. Like, if I was paid a dollar for every time someone asked me this I would be rich for sure. Anyway! Here are my answers:
What is your advice for people just starting out with wanting to change their diet?
What is your advice for people who have hit a diet roadblock?
Well, if you made it to the bottom of this post I greatly appreciate it and thank you for reading my musings! Food is an integral part of our lives in so many contexts, but on the whole, we as a human race (at least in America) do not use food as medicine as much as we should.
It certainly isn't easy to make changes to move away from the Standard American Diet (I'm sorry, but it's pretty ironic to me that the acronym for it is SAD lolol), but it so worth it, I promise!