After trying all sorts of “healthy” diets for years, from low calorie to low carb, vegetarian, vegan to paleo, I finally found the diet that works for me. Although my diet is not an umbrella term, it is the best and healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life. Getting there, however, was a journey of broken “rules” and failed regimes that ultimately taught me that perhaps the safest and gentlest way to define your diet is to stop trying.
It’s not a rare story, but it’s mine: I’ve always struggled with my weight.
I came from a household where we ate quickly and the food was always plentiful. While my mom avoided processed sugar and candy and snacks were always either fresh fruit or raw vegetables, there was always more than enough noodles to go around. I wasn’t a particularly active child, and I loved food and often ate past the point of abundance. Comparing my body to that of my skinny sister was something I did a lot when I was ten or eleven, but I didn’t have the tools – or the confidence – to realize that portion control was probably the best way to go.
Instead, when I was thirteen, I began a long chain of diets that I didn’t understand. I drank my dad’s Slim Fast Shakes for breakfast or used websites to count calories. I would eat meal replacement bars or imitate my sister’s eating habits. When I was fourteen, I had tried both Atkins and Weight Watchers; With the latter, I began to see my still youthful body shrink.
Find meaning in food
For years I had decided what to build into my body based only on what tasted good. It wasn’t until I was fifteen and my boarding house roommate sent me an article by Michael Pollan about controlling agriculture in America that I began to ponder the morals behind my food. I quickly became a vegetarian, which at boarding school meant I ate a lot of pasta and bagels. But I also visited the salad bar and started a lifelong love affair with vegetables. I liked the feeling of fullness they gave me: a fullness that made me feel revived rather than sluggish. But I have to admit now that I also liked the fact that it was easy for me to put a name on my diet to refuse food and hide behind the name of something that was inspired more morally than vanity .
There is nothing wrong with trying a new eating regime – for whatever reason – or even thinking about like so many vegetarians and vegans are. But when we define ourselves by what we eat, things get complicated.
“There’s a bit of a slippery slope,” explains Elise Museles, a certified expert in eating psychology and nutrition. “On the one hand, we don’t want to keep people from being curious. You get into trouble when you think these super rigid rules are to be followed and they were defined by someone else, not you. “
Exactly that, explains Museles, I refused to listen to what my body needed.
“You become disconnected from your body and become more concerned with the rules than with how you actually feel.”
That was certainly true for me. The weight drained off me but I couldn’t get enough sleep and my normally thick, curly hair began to thin. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I turned down this unhealthy diet … but my journey to healthy eating was far from over.
The social component
Eating is food, yes, but it’s social too, which helped me give up my vegetarian diet when I was 16. During my studies abroad, I stayed with three other girls and an older French host in a host family. On our first night, she served everyone with ham and cheese filled cordon bleu, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, I have something special for you!”
She returned to the kitchen and came out with a baked whole fish.
Horrified at the prospect of explaining the difference between vegetarianism and pescatarianism to my older host, I made an exception. After that I felt so guilty that I googled meat production in France and, to my pleasure, discovered and surprised completely different standards than those I knew at home. In rural France, which was far from vegetarian in 2004, this was a welcome relief.
Soon I began to incorporate not only fish but also meat into my diet. By the time I enrolled at the University of Toronto, I was omnivorous again.
At university I started teaching myself to cook, a skill my mother had but never passed on. I made meals to share and also went to restaurants with friends. But as I turned to the social aspect of eating, I gradually gained 30 pounds over the course of my freshman year.
That doesn’t surprise Museles. While she states that “socializing and connecting with other people” is itself “a form of nutrition”, the point is to find balance.
“If I end up eating something that isn’t as healthy as at home, I’m fine because I want to be connected with other people,” she says.
But I wasn’t quite there yet. While I enjoyed sharing food with my friends, I had not achieved a balance that would make me feel satiated both physically and emotionally. Over the next decade, I found that my food fluctuated a lot depending on whether I was alone or in a group. With others I ate omnivorous and enthusiastically and later often “punished” myself for it by reducing calories … or excluding food groups altogether. I’ve tried everything possible to get my eating going again: Weight Watchers, Whole30, and more. I would tell people that I took some time out on alcohol, grains, gluten, meat, or dairy products to change my mind weeks or months later. I have never felt satisfied, and food, despite having become my job, has been a source of deep stress and anxiety for me.
For Museles, the rules to which I have submitted are not uncommon.
“Women tend to denigrate whole food groups,” she cites carbohydrates, gluten and fat as examples. This tendency to restrict based on what works for someone else’s body often leads to food cravings, especially when that food group is one that your body really needs.
“Often times, a seizure follows a restrictive eating cycle,” she says. “It creates this loop in which we feel bad when the truth is that it is really our body that does its job.”
There is no word for my diet and that’s fine
In 2015, I developed bronchitis that I couldn’t shake for six months. After two rounds of antibiotics, chest x-rays, and more, my doctor put me on a cortisol inhaler. Knowing that constant steroid use couldn’t be good in the long run, I investigated an anti-inflammatory diet in which I used the principles of Whole30 and GAPS to eliminate large amounts of food from my diet. From there, I slowly reintegrated them while focusing on how I was feeling: were my lungs inflamed? Did i cough? How was my breathing It was the first time in my life that I examined how I felt about individual foods and in the process I eventually stumbled upon the diet that cleaned my skin, helped me shed unwanted pounds easily, my mood improve and kept me full. And it has no name.
I learned in high school that I was good at planting a diet, and it remains that way to this day. I like feeling full, and I drink multiple servings of leafy greens, orange greens, and cruciferous vegetables, plus quite a bit of seasonal fruit, every day.
I firmly believe in the moral and environmental impact of plant-based eating. The only non-vegan foods I keep at home are small, sustainable fish (pickled anchovies are just as popular as canned sardines) and free-range eggs sourced from local farmers. I also know that I need a decent amount of fat to feel full: tahini and avocado are my favorite sources.
I know dairy and alcohol make me break out, and most carbohydrates make me hungry and moody. I avoid these foods most of the time and honestly I don’t miss them. I’ve never had so many sweet things, and when a craving comes up, I honestly feel better with a slice of seasonal or frozen fruit.
This is how I eat when I’m home and there is no need. I’m looking forward to hearty salads with beans, kale and tahini dressing with chilli spices. But I also live in Paris, where I work as a restaurant critic. And you can bet I won’t ask Alain Ducasse to make me a kale salad.
“Food should work with your life; it shouldn’t define your life,” says Museles. “It should improve it.”
I love eating out with friends, exploring new restaurants and flavors. White flour may make me grumpy, but when I elude a truly exquisite Saint-Honoré, I get even more moody.
But even if I deviate from my basic diet, I make decisions that make me feel good. I prefer to skip breakfast and have my first meal at lunchtime, and when I indulge in a croissant in the morning (as my compatriots are used to) I find it makes me hungry two hours later. So instead I save my croissant consumption for the 4 p.m. goûter or snack. I noticed that while I can tolerate meat well, I rarely get upset about it. I probably eat meat once a month, if so, and only when a particularly tempting option appears on a menu (90 percent of the time, this is tacos al pastor or nduja). I usually avoid desserts in restaurants because eating candy late at night gives me a stomach ache.
It took me 33 years to know this about myself. And I’m still learning.
There isn’t a single word to define the diet I’m following, which is believed to bridge the gap between flexitarianism and pegan. But I don’t need a name for it. I just know it’s the best I’ve ever felt in my life.
Based on bio-authority
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