repairing my relationship with food: healing through a low-carb lifestyle

I have a confession to make and it’s going to be weird coming from someone who blogs about food.

I took a break in August because I was working on my disordered relationship with food. I could no longer keep up this persona of the wannabe foodie because it was becoming dangerous to my health, both mentally and physically. The process has been gradual and it all started with a simple lifestyle change, one that ultimately became the catalyst for the journey of healing that has made me much happier and healthier.

Where I Come From

To better understand how I got to this point, I want to share a little bit about my childhood and my struggles with body image and weight.

I was a chubby kid growing up. I loved food; I was happiest when I was well fed. According to my parents, as long as my belly was full and I got a lot of sleep, I was a happy kid. I took after my paternal grandmother, who always had a love for sweets and rice cakes.

Obviously that love for sweets and rice cakes gave me a rotund figure. I’m genetically pre-disposed to gaining weight easily. That’s just the way it is (thanks, genetics). So to cope with my insecurities and the usual teenage drama growing up, I developed anorexia when I was 16 and lost 45 pounds in three months, plummeting to 100lbs. On a 5’5” frame, that’s a BMI of 16.6 (a BMI of <18.5 is considered underweight).

I eventually developed bulimia as well because I learned that I could actually eat food and then purge it out. Thus began my cycle of bingeing and purging, followed by periods of starvation. I did eventually recover through seeing a therapist, but a part of that disordered eating self still lingered inside of me. I was convinced that I would never be rid of it, that it would always be part of my identity. It would rear its ugly head during the times my weight would fluctuate; I would hear that voice in my head, “what is wrong with you? You need to starve yourself.” And so I would, and it always worked. That’s probably why I kept listening.

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Regressing to Old Habits

After successfully losing weight with a traditional calorie-restricted diet and the P90X program, Mark and I started gradually gaining it back over the past couple of years. It started innocently enough – old foods being re-introduced, going out to eat more frequently, cooking and baking more indulgent foods at home, treating myself to “forbidden” goodies more often.

I can see it now, but back then I was clearly in denial. I had started listening to that voice inside my head again, telling me I needed to be punished. I was so used to hiding my disordered eating habits that it was fairly easy to disguise it from Mark. I would skip meals frequently, sometimes only eating one small meal a day, using the excuse that I simply wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel like eating. The times when Mark traveled a lot for work were easier for me to get away with it, and I started to relish that feeling of complete emptiness inside of my stomach.

All the while, I kept up the appearance of a food-loving blogger, happily going out to eat at new restaurants and indulging in my favourite treats. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a sense of guilt attached to these activities. It was like having a dual personality – the food blogger that was always on the hunt for new material, and the teenage anorexic who hated the feeling of that food being digested in her body.

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Obsession with the Foodie Identity

At the same time I was dealing with the weight and eating issues, I was holding onto an identity that wasn’t in my best interests. What started as a fun hobby quickly turned into an obsession to fulfill a certain idealized persona that I had in my own head. I hate to admit it, but this wannabe foodie really did want to be a foodie, one of those really fun and social foodies that is out in the community at restaurant openings, tweeting about the latest trends and being invited to all the cool media events. I wanted to be that foodie so badly. I wanted to be popular, to be liked, to be noticed and re-tweeted. I wanted the attention and the bragging rights.

Even though we were trying to watch our finances, I’d find any opportunity to go out and try a new restaurant just so I could write about how cool I was that I made it to this new trendy place. It became a race to the finish line of this imaginary competition I had going on in my head, and if I can be completely honest for a moment here, at times it was no longer fun anymore and ridiculous how stressed out I became about it.

I obsessed over other people’s food photography and felt like I was missing out if I didn’t go out RIGHT THIS SECOND and get my hands on whatever they were eating. Vacation planning became an all-out bonanza of restaurant research and every activity had to be planned around where I wanted to eat. Food trumped all. If it didn’t fit the food schedule, it didn’t make it on our list of must-do’s, and I had complex matrices on the go to juggle all the pieces to make my food desires work.

What the hell was going on? All the while, I was convinced that everything I was doing was because I truly enjoyed it – which is partly true – but it was mostly driven by this crazy obsession to become someone that I’m not meant to be. I’m not meant to be a foodie; I’m the pickiest eater out there and I hate social gatherings, so why the hell was I expecting to become this popular foodie that is supposed to be the toast of the town?

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The Tipping Point

It wasn’t my gradual weight gain, the foodie obsession, or the disordered eating that finally led to making a change. It was actually Mark’s own personal weight battle. When I see a loved one down in the dumps, my first instinct is to comfort. Like me, Mark has also struggled with his weight since childhood and our recent weight gain was happening in parallel. One particular night before bed, he was especially frustrated with his weight gain, and it sucked seeing him like that.

It wasn’t until a few days later when I was absentmindedly browsing the internet that I came across a website run by a Swedish doctor called The Diet Doctor. Seems a bit hokey, right? I didn’t know what to make of it until I started reading about the Low-Carb, High-Fat (LCHF) diet, otherwise known as the ketosis diet.

It opened my eyes to a whole new lifestyle that at first didn’t make any sense. What do you mean “high-fat”? It seemed counterintuitive to me, but the more I read about the diet, the more intrigued I became, to the point that I spent the rest of the day researching into the diet and reading everything I could get my hands on.

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The Ultimate Break-Up

It’s hard to believe that a carbaholic like me would even consider a diet that is low in carbs and cuts out most of my favourite foods, but I was willing to give it a try. This brings me back to that night before bed when Mark’s frustration about his weight gain was at its peak – I was mostly willing to give this a try because of him. We do lifestyle changes together (that’s just the way we roll), so it had to be both of us taking the plunge.

I told him all about the research and information I’d found on the diet. He was definitely skeptical, but he was on board. So we set a start date of July 14 and I continued on my research quest; I simply couldn’t get enough information because it was so fascinating to me.

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The Aftermath

Twelve weeks later, we’re still going strong. It certainly took some getting used to, but now we’re in the rhythm of things, as if we’ve been eating this way for longer than 12 weeks.

I’m not gonna lie, the first few weeks were rough. At first, it was the withdrawal symptoms from not eating carbs – brain fog, headaches, a general feeling of crap – similar to what I experienced when I quit smoking cold turkey a few years ago. It only lasted about a week, thankfully, but I still had the problem of carb cravings to get over.

I can justify anything to myself. Really, even if the logic doesn’t make sense when I pass it through a logic meter, I still manage to convince myself with the dumbest excuses. Things like, if no one sees you eat it, then it doesn’t count. I didn’t want to fall into that habit again, so I made myself a deal that I would do this with absolutely no cheats – no justification for any carb creep, no matter what. I would make a conscious choice to stick to the lifestyle without any deviations.

I had a lot of bread dreams (“carbmares”) and a lot of days were filled with thoughts of doughnuts and cupcakes. My workplace is notorious for having goodies around all the time, so that meant platters of cookies, pastries, and cupcakes quite often lingering in the kitchen. I would stare longingly at these treats, imagining what they would taste like. It was tough, you guys. But I held strong.

By about week 6, those cravings started to decrease. I thought less and less about carbs and focused more on the things that I could eat. It’s amazing what a shift in perspective can do. The carbmares became less frequent and I no longer stared at plates of cookies like a maniac.

As for the weight loss?  Well, the weight loss isn’t truly the point of this post, but I must say that losing weight has been the most effortless this time around.  On LCHF, I get to eat a host of nutrient-dense foods that keep me full.  I only experience true hunger maybe every two days, whereas on other diets I would be constantly hungry (which then led to obsessive thoughts about food 24/7).  Today I’m sitting comfortably at 132lbs, the lowest weight I have been since my early 20’s.  My previous attempts at weight loss, I would always plateau at 134-135lbs, so this progress feels amazing.

I came for the weight loss, but stayed for every other amazing health benefit that makes this the most sustainable long-term lifestyle choice for me. Benefits like:

  • Significant decrease in IBS symptoms such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea
  • Constant and steady energy throughout the day – no more energy rollercoasters
  • Clearer skin – less acne breakouts and my keratosis pilaris is clearing up
  • Increased mental clarity and ability to focus and concentrate
  • Nails are strong – no longer have any ridges or pitting
  • Hair is growing incredibly fast

Not to mention being able to work through my issues with food, which is the biggest benefit of all.  I truly believe that this way of eating is what’s helping me to repair the damage I’ve done to my health through all those years of disordered eating and negative thoughts about my body.

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A Healthier Outlook

I care more about what I put into my body. We eat primarily locally-farmed, organic (if possible) foods, ranging from vegetables to meats to dairy products. We focus on whole, natural foods, with the only processed/bottled products being sugar-free ketchup and hot sauce. We stay away from artificial sweeteners and diet-friendly substitutes because the taste of sweetness is a slippery slope that keeps the cravings for sweets alive on our palates, which is a recipe for disaster.

I’m constantly looking for new LCHF-friendly meals to make and living this way has made me a much better cook. I’ve been able to adapt things like meatloaf, lasagna, and pizza to suit our new lifestyle.   I look for new ways to incorporate vegetables to change things up for our taste buds. These days, I find great satisfaction having a big pot of chicken broth cooking on the stove, permeating the air with a comforting aroma.

Our grocery bill has gone up, but I can’t put a price on the quality of life we have now. We pretty much buy the same foods on rotation every week, visiting our favourite food stands at the farmers market and the butcher for the best cuts of meat. We no longer eat out at restaurants, so we save a ton of money by eating at home.

I don’t see food as a vice anymore. I don’t get obsessed about it nor do I use it to deal with my emotional issues. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loving food, but for me, loving food came at a dangerous price to my health to the point that it became an abusive relationship. I still have a love for food, but it comes from a completely different place. I’m free to enjoy it not only as fuel to keep my body running at its most optimum, but an incredibly tasty and satisfying fuel that constantly challenges my creativity and cooking skills.

Additionally, I no longer have a desire to become the foodie I described above. I’m content in who I am and what I’m bringing to the world through what I share. And I feel that, finally, after 15 years when it first started, I’m finally rid of those disordered eating patterns that made their residence in the deepest corners of my being. I don’t listen to that voice anymore and the longer I went without giving into its calls, the quieter that voice became, until I have nothing but peace and quiet inside my head.

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Resources

One of the most powerful phrases I’ve heard about eating is “don’t put a label on your diet”. It’s too restrictive, which leads to frustration and feelings of deprivation. Instead, I encourage others to do what works best for them, so long as they’re within the general guidelines. We are all different, with different needs and different biological make-ups, so it doesn’t make sense that we take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to food. It’s all about finding your own “sweet spot” and doing what’s best for you.

I’m no expert in LCHF.  I just have an unquenchable thirst for learning as much about it as I can and imparting this knowledge to those who are interested.  To that end, below is a list of excellent resources on the LCHF diet, ones that not only helped me at the beginning of this journey but ones that I continue to go back to time and time again.  I recognize that a lot of people won’t understand why I made this choice because of the deeply entrenched belief that carbohydrates are essential and fat is bad, but I encourage those who are curious to seek out your own truths. There’s a host of information out there that proves just how powerful a few key people truly were in shaping the way millions of people are currently eating, and not for the better. Always question what doesn’t seem right and never stop learning.  We are the ones in charge of our health and we all have a choice.  Be empowered to choose the best path for you, whatever that may be.

Websites:

Books:

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What the Future Holds

Even with these changes, I’m not ready to throw in the towel on this blog. I want to share what I’ve learned in the last 12 weeks and the recipes I have developed to support this new lifestyle.  Restaurant posts will be few and far between, but I still go out occasionally to enjoy a meal and have no issues adhering to my lifestyle while doing so.  It’s all about preparation and having some fun with it.

I look back on how far this blog has come and I’m truly proud of myself.  My old posts will serve as happy memories that I will cherish and look back on with nothing but joy.  You know what, I really did eat a lot of fabulous food in my time and I don’t regret any of it.  Going through what I did has finally brought me to a better place; without that journey, I would not be the person I am today.  With all new challenges and difficulties, we become stronger, better, and wiser.  Without change, we become stagnant, and that to me is a worse path than having to face the demons that have haunted me for so long.

My hope is that whoever reads this is inspired to learn more about LCHF, but if you’re not into it, that’s okay too.  I’m not here to change the world; I’m just here doing what I can, through one healthy choice at a time.

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3 thoughts on “repairing my relationship with food: healing through a low-carb lifestyle”

  1. wow-what a post!
    i love love love reading your ‘foodie’ stuff, but think this is your best post yet!
    i hope you are healthy & happy now – keep up the good work!
    LCHF sounds interesting – glad its working for you & your mr-
    good luck with the continuing journey
    cheers
    su :)

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