Over the past year, I have been making steps to gradually improve the quality of food I eat. My latest step is completely cutting out refined sugars. To keep things simple I try eating as many whole foods as possible. Through trial and error, I have found that a Paleo-esque diet with no gluten, dairy, grains, caffeine, and alcohol works best for my body. In fact, it’s a lot like Whole30.
When I started changing my diet I thought it’d be temporary. I thought eventually I would go back to the way I was eating or something close to that. I imagined that ice cream, brownies, cookies, and baking would all be a part of my life again. When I looked at pictures of paleo treats on Pinterest it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine myself eating them. Now, my whole relationship with food has been transformed. Now I see that some of the foods, especially vegetables, that I was avoiding before can enhance a meal immensely. The meals I make now are more filling and (dare I say it) delicious.
It’s a privilege
My naturopathic doctor reminded me that I actually have the privilege to know what my body needs. It changed my focus from what I can’t eat to focusing on what I can eat. Thanks to my changing taste buds, foods that taste naturally sweet like berries are now like dessert to me. I realized the value in listening to how my body felt. Also, how lucky I was to actually discover what gave me severe stomach pain and left me feeling extremely fatigued. When I first started changing the way I ate not having pain was enough to motivate me to stay on track. Once I started to feel better the effects of straying from my food plan wasn’t as immediate. So shifting my attitude opened me up to a new way of appreciating the gift that my new way of eating was.
A new way to honor my body and God
I thought my symptoms for years were somewhat “normal”, or at least they were “my normal.” Doctors didn’t seem too worried so I didn’t worry either, or at least not until everything heath-wise got worse quickly. That was my body’s distress call. My fatigue was a sign that I needed to slow down and take care of myself. My monthly period pain intensifying was a sign my body was having more inflammation. Not being able to keep weight on was a sign I wasn’t properly absorbing nutrition. My anxiety escalating to panic attacks was another sign, that my gut microbiome was in distress.
If I hadn’t listened to my body and just drank coffee to keep my energy up I wouldn’t have resolved anything. If I had over-medicated for my anxiety I wouldn’t have realized the strong brain-gut connection. I might not have sought counseling to get through that time, which brought about a lot of self-discovery (I think anti-depressants and medications have their place as well, but my body didn’t respond well to anti-depressants).By listening to my body and beginning my healing journey, I’m also able to honor my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit. I’m able to appreciate that my body is a gift that God has given me. It has also made me appreciate how wonderful food from the earth is. Although I find it very humorous that my husband drinks Soylent, (cue cringing if you’ve seen the 1960’s movie), I believe that the food we have been given is good. We might engineer great things but when it comes to food in my opinion simple is better.
Healthy Eating is enjoyable
I want to encourage you that eating nutritious foods doesn’t have to be a heavy burden. Cutting out refined sugar doesn’t mean you’ll never enjoy food again; it can actually be freeing. Freeing to know what foods you’re consuming, to know how to pronounce all the ingredients on the label of food, to know which foods don’t make you feel terrible. It’s so rewarding knowing that you can prepare a meal from scratch that tastes so good you have no reason to eat out for dinner (aside from convenience).
It’s totally possible to transform the way you eat, and your relationship with food. There are many ways to bring enjoyment and make beautiful meals that also make you feel better. I think food has been the main piece in healing my body. I may take supplements, drink lots of water, and go on walks, but healing my gut has been key. Also, if you suspect that more is going on get in contact with a nutritionist, naturopath, or your general doctor. Don’t be satisfied until they find what is underlying your symptoms. You don’t have to figure things out on your own completely from scratch (making meals from scratch, on the other hand, is great and fun!).
The movie Babette’s Feast reminds me of the importance of feasting. It brings people together, it breaks down barriers, and it brings communion. In the past feasts and fasting had more of a prominent place in society at large. There is immense wisdom in these practices that I think our modern mentality could greatly benefit from. I still treasure the time of Lent because it helps me refocus and realize there is more to life than a certain food or vice. It’s also a chance to try new habits and spiritual practices. Fasting can play an important role in life, just as feasting does. After fasting during Lent, the celebration of the Resurrection seems so much sweeter and jubilant
For me feasting looks differently than it once did. Foods are connected to some of my favorite memories. Like getting out the pizzelle press and making cookies at Christmas time, forming the dough for Raviolis for Thanksgiving. Now I have an opportunity to create new traditions, while still treasuring these recipes passed down. Food and feasting bring people together but the food doesn’t just serve a solely utilitarian purpose; it feeds both body and soul. When we have guests over we try to serve our best food, we splurge on an extra good cut of meat. It’s a celebration, where we welcome those into our home. Our dinner table is where we have rest and peace from the world, where ideas are exchanged. It’s one of the places we find daily nourishment for our souls. Our dinner table also helps us prepare for receiving the Eucharist on Sunday and hopefully someday to celebrate in the Heavenly Banquet.
Learning to Cook
Before changing my diet, I loved to make casseroles with lots of cheese. I would always add extra butter (I’d like to think I made Julia Child proud), and I loved baking and especially eating the extra cookie dough batter (you could say I had a sweet tooth). Now I’m learning the proper way to prepare veggies, and I have come to enjoy the process of making a hearty meal. I can now appreciate why in ages past people had a meal simmering over a fire all day – it has good results. Maybe we lost the wisdom of foods that take a long time to prepare.
That’s why my days are spent mostly in the kitchen around our “hearth”. Part of making the hearth the center of our home has been a shift in priorities. Shifting priorities has allowed me to learn a new skill. The Kitchn has a great series on learning how to cook if you need help getting started. Many people are reclaiming practices such as canning, fermenting, and home brewing. Maybe these are all indications that there are more sustainable, more fulfilling ways to live our daily lives.
So whatever brings you here; if you’re facing chronic illness, or if you want to cut out refined sugar, I’m here to tell you it’s doable. Better than that, it will probably help you feel a lot better too. Changing the way you eat means developing new habits, learning new skills, and reevaluating how you were living before. Changing your lifestyle and way you eat will challenge you. But as with starting any new habit, give it to God. Many times we don’t keep with a goal, we get discouraged because we totally rely on ourselves. I often remind myself that God’s mercies are new every morning and that we are given a fresh start each day. Let’s appreciate the great gift food is and grace our tables with food of great beauty! Let’s rediscover how to cook and redefine our relationship with food.