Food for Thought: My Food Philosophy

Well it has been a little bit, but I’m just going to jump right in. Last time I wrote a Sunday post, I told you about how I believe that EVERYONE, no matter what their dietary or life choices, would benefit from eating a whole foods diet. My example of one of the perfect whole foods was sweet potatoes, and I’ll be writing more on using this nutritionally dense superfood to curb sweet tooths. I used to have a terrible “sweet tooth”, but really it should be called something like “guilt tooth”. I was addicted to sugar. I would eat sugary things, crave more, feel bad about myself for eating sweet things and having no “self-control” or “willpower” in order to stop eating them. I lived in a world of “guilty pleasures”, a seemingly innocent phrase that was actually covering up habits of self-harm, depression, and mental beat-downs. I haven’t quite found the word to describe what I was doing to myself mentally, only that it was negative, harming, and getting in the way of my being healthy, because I had no self-love and I wasn’t focusing on holistic health.

guilt-free treats – fudgey sweet potato bites

Now I have a new food philosophy, which also opened up a whole new world for me in terms of happy living. I feel in tune with my body, free in spirit, confident to tackle challenges like PCOS and triathlons, and god, just happy. I support my health with “feel good food”. This whole foods, refined-sugar free diet is  nourishing, healing for my body, emotionally satiating, free from anxiety, stress, guilt, or any discomfort. I’m done with the dark days of depression, cravings, out of control mood swings, and the worst mental bootcamp I’ve ever put myself through. I don’t need a restrictive diet – I need a healthy lifestyle that allows me to be the happiest and best version of myself.

grilled romaine – a great new take on dinner salads

How do I achieve that? I cut out the foods that were causing me harm and cluttering my emotions. That’s my philosophy. Most of you already know that I don’t tolerate gluten, dairy, soy, or refined-sugar. While I’m recovering from PCOS, I am also avoiding all sweeteners, except stevia. Fruit and nuts are healthy foods, but for now I have to steer clear in order to allow my body to heal itself. Nuts & legumes have phytoestrogens that interfere with the natural process of hormone regulation that my body is trying to regain. By eliminating the clutter in my diet – food that just isn’t doing any sort of good for me, I’m able to focus on happier thoughts, healthier activities, and a true enjoyment of living. I no longer struggle to get out of bed, toss and turn while trying to fall asleep, fight against huge energy crashes, or feel too exhausted to exercise. I love myself and focus naturally on positive thoughts and solutions, which not only makes me happier, but makes it easier and more fulfilling to help others, something that I have always loved and held on to. I love efficiency, sometimes to a fault, but this way of eating makes my body an energetic, efficiency machine, maximizing my potential and what I can get out of life.

dinner

Alright, but who wants to focus on what you don’t eat, even if it does make you feel better? Whenever I have to go on a restricted diet, I always focus on what I CAN have and will enjoy. I love eating:

Sweet potatoes, all types, and squash too
Vegetables!!!!!!!! There is so much more to them than as a boiled afterthought side dish
Pasture-raised meat and poultry, free from GMOs and grass-fed, not eating soy, grains, or other junk
Sustainable seafood
Healthy fats, like avocados and coconut (coconut milk, coconut butter, coconut oil, coconut flakes…coconut coconut coconut!)
Did I mention vegetables? Curries, green sauces, green smoothies, salads, roasted, soups, stir frys – over half my recipes are veggie-based, so check ‘em out!

pizza nicoise salad

I also think about the environment that my food comes from, for many reasons. Just like the foods we eat should work with our bodies rather than against it, the way we produce and consume food should work with our planet and its resources to ensure mutual health of humans and our surrounding environment. First, food that is environmentally conscious is usually free of pollutants and toxins that damage our health and foster diseases plaguing our society. Secondly, the way pasture-raised animals, sustainable seafood, and pollutant-free, “organic” produce is nurtured and distributed is much much healthier for our planet. I’m learning more and more about the connection between our personal health and the health of our surrounding environment, which only strengthens my belief that we must prioritize our relationship with the earth while improving our own lives. Finally, the way we harvest or raise our food has to be sustainable, not only for the planet, but so we can continue to enjoy great food and share it with our grandchildren and beyond.

making gluten-free, whole foods chicken nuggets with my brother, from the Paleo Parent’s cookbook Eat Like a Dinosaur

The frustrating thing, for everyone, is that each person is unique, so there are no perfect answers waiting to be discovered. You have to unlock them for yourself. What works for me may not work for you. There are some things, however, that benefit all. WHOLE FOODS! Get rid of that refined sugar, refined flour, those packaged goods, overly-processed goods, commercial meats, rancid vegetable oils, or anything with an unpronounceable ingredient. Fractured foods – foods that have been chemically altered or contain tons of preservatives and additives – are the antithesis of whole foods. That means things like low-fat yogurt, which has tons of preservatives and added sugar. Watch out for fake butter – a minefield of chemicals made to resemble food. If you can tolerate dairy, just use real butter or ghee, which is casein-free. Avoid soy. Maybe you can tolerate it, but most soy today is so genetically modified that the dangers outweigh the benefits. If you can eat soy, it should be GMO-free and something naturally fermented like natto or miso. Soy ice cream or cream cheese? Look at the ingredients – it’s not real food!!!! Try making your own cashew cream cheese or dairy-free ice cream. There are tons of recipes out there now for real, whole foods, allergy-friendly meals and treats. And you know what? IT TASTES BETTER. I promise. Once you declutter your palette, you’ll realized that the chemicals in processed foods had you addicted to substances resembling food, but they were preventing you from actually tasting REAL food and how awesome it is.

more whole foods treats!

Try getting rid of any one of those things and you’ll notice a difference. You’ll have more energy – the world will seem sharper and more in focus. You’ll be more in tune with your body. Positive lifestyle habits like self-love and mental kindness, exercise routines, patience, less irritability (especially if you get rid of refined sugar) will come naturally. You’ll be able to trust your body and figure out what is right for you.

One way I find what works for me is not by focusing on my thoughts but my feelings. Food looks good, sometimes tastes good, smells good, sounds good, but does it FEEL good? After you eat it, are you tired, depressed, full of guilt, or beating yourself up? Or do you feel healthy, satisfied, nourished, and emotionally well?

squash – my ultimate feel-good food!

Sometimes when I am tired or my hormones are all out of whack, literally, sugar’s temptation gets through my mental defenses a little easier. Things I would never think about eating, like a mini Snickers bar or plate of treats, become enticing, and my tired brain wants to rationalize eating it. Cravings are ALL in your head. It is totally mental. But if I think about how I would feel after eating sugar – depressed, irritable, even MORE tired than I am in that moment – the craving vanishes. Instantly. There is no power struggle between thoughts and willpower, because my brain and body are connected strongly by my heart. I treat myself right; I treat myself to healthy food that will make me FEEL good.

green smoothies – the ultimate energy booster

I was at a restaurant a few weeks ago and every one ordered naan except me. It smelled warm and inviting, piping hot out of the oven and seductively draping itself over the edges of the plate. The carb-lover in me remembered the days of old and how much I had enjoyed naan. But then I thought for a second about how I felt in all those other moments when I wasn’t eating naan. Depressed. Anxious. Unhappy. Boom – craving gone. By concentrating on how food would make me feel rather than what my brain craved, I once again empowered myself to make the best decision for my health and happiness. Skip the naan, eat an awesome salad instead, laugh a lot with friends, and enjoy a healthy indulgence of chestnuts on the way home.

Blueberry Pudding Cake

Sometimes it is more about how you approach the food rather than just the food itself. You can still have unhealthy habits even while eating healthy foods. Coconut butter is a wonderfully versatile ingredient. I use it to make candies, in baked goods like my Blueberry Pudding Cake, in smoothies, in regular cooking, even as frosting. But when I eat it straight out the jar, it is NOT a feel good food for me. It’s too heavy, and I find myself falling back into unhealthy habits – not eating mindfully is a big one. I find myself rushing to cram food in my mouth, before I come to my senses and realize what I am doing is actually harming me because I’m practicing a negative habit. I overeat, rushing to consume and not allowing ample time for my body to know when it is full. We get good at what we practice. Shoveling food into my mouth out of a jar is not a good way to practice mindful eating. Instead, I’ve been having lots of fun making coconut butter candies and enjoying some tiny frozen treats as a mid-afternoon pick me up during these hot, humid summer days. I derive more satisfaction from these mindful moments than my guilty sneakfest out of the jar.

dairy-free, refined-sugar free ice cream

Don’t ever let me fool you into thinking I have it all figured out or am totally put together all the time. We all have our struggles, and you just have to chip away at one thing at a time. Don’t take it on all at once. In fact, focus on “under”-taking. Do less. Choose one simple, easy step and implement that until it becomes a healthy habit. I’ve been on my journey for years. But don’t negatively anticipate what is ahead. Just focus on your task for the day. I’ve written about how I first gave up gluten. All I thought about was not eating gluten for that day – not for the rest of my life. 6 months later I slowly let go of dairy. 6 months after that is was soy. I took one whole year to eliminate refined sugar. I had cravings, but I stuck it out for three days. I kept reminding myself how much better I would feel without sugar, and I ate low-sugar fruits to my heart’s content. I’ve recently read that people who ate a teaspoon of coconut butter or other healthy fat while they craved sugar had a better time eliminating cravings. After three days I was able to tune into my feelings and avoid sugar without cravings. It took another year to realize that my body couldn’t handle other kinds of sweeteners, for the time being.

Thai Green Curry Sauce

I did not become an overnight health success, but I am MORE dedicated to being healthy and happy each day. I still struggle with unhealthy habits – like the coconut butter shoving. But I am happier. It does get easier. Before, the thought of going without a certain food would put me in a panic. It happened with sugar. Honestly, it still might happen if it comes down to sweet potatoes! But I can tackle new challenges, like no fruit or nuts for six months, with more ease and, dare I say it, grace. I’m simply a better person, and I mean that not in some sort of moral context or holier-than-thou attitude, but by the fact that I know what makes me happy and I’m not afraid to do it. I stand up for my own health. I have self-confidence. I enjoy challenging exercise. And I LOVE food. Love it. And as Shauna says, it loves me back. I want you to have that too.
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If this tome wasn’t enough for you, more reading!
VIDEO on the emotional effects of Sugar Addiction, from Lillian’s Test Kitchen
Previous Food for Thoughts