Saturday, July 9, 2011

Canary Tip: Bending With the Wind

In becoming gluten-free and dairy free, the last four years has presented an extremely steep learning curve.  I used to think that I knew what a healthy, balanced diet consisted of.  But in hindsight, I now understand that healthy for one person is not necessarily healthy for everyone else and that the foods you love are not necessarily the foods that love you back.

Around 2006, I really tried to reform my diet and my life from its "grad school ways."  At that time, it was all "whole wheat this," and "whole wheat that," so that became the focus of my grocery shopping and cooking.  Everybody else was doing it, so why not me?  Imagine my confusion when the "right thing for my body" felt painfully wrong.  But not knowing any better, I persisted on that path for the better part of 2 years, complacent with the escalating discomfort of both my body and mind.

But like my mom always says, "It's always darker before the sun rises."  And when those rays of light finally penetrated into my life, it was like I was seeing everything for the very first time.  In becoming gluten-free and dairy-free, I discovered not only a new way of eating, but a new way to perceive food and how I could find a "healthy" way of eating that was appropriate for me.  While your trainer, your healthcare professional, your best friend, or a celebrity doctor can help guide you towards a healthy lifestyle and diet, they won't be your best counsel. 

You will. :)

As I mentioned in a recent post, there have been quite a few friends that have approached me recently about making over their diets.  I know all too well what many of them are going through - the inexplicable pain after every meal, frantic dashes to the bathroom, migraines, hives, acne breakouts, mood swings, overwhelming fatigue, etc.  I can see the frustration in their eyes, and knowing how invaluable the mentors on my own journey were to me, I can't help but want to be there, to extend my hand and provide a shoulder to lean on.

What it all boils down to is listening

Listening to your body and finding a way to filter out all the static and white noise from the rest of your life so you can really tune in to what your body needs and wants.  Think about it like a radio dial.  In between stations, the signal is weak and what you hear is muddled and indistinct.  But when you hit the mark, the signal is strong, and what you hear is clear, unambiguous, and absolute.

What prevents most of us from being in tune?  Habits like making most of your teeth "sweet teeth," drinking excessively, emotional/binge eating without thought, or consuming too many processed and artificial foods.  On the other side of the coin, being too strict with how much you eat, obsession with counting calories and fat grams out of fear, or being too rigid with your diet and refusing to venture outside of what's "tried and true."   Fad diets don't necessarily help either, especially when they serve to distract and relieve you from having to think about what you're putting in your mouth.  None of these are very kind, compassionate, nor helpful to the mind and body.  I tell you that from experience.

And a majority of these behaviors are exactly that: habits - things we have learned and things we have come to depend upon.  And as we all know, un-learning is no walk in the park and it will test our patience and will.  But it is crucial that wean ourselves from these dependencies and crutches and find new and better ways to care for our bodies, so we can work with them as opposed to against them.  And one of the best ways I've found to make that un-learning process a little easier is by making a commitment to learning about your food choices.

Do I mean looking up everything you eat on the internet?  While it wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea every once in a while, it's not what I mean.  What I mean is honing in on those foods that make you feel better and teasing them apart from the foods that make you feel worse.  One way to help you do this is an elimination diet.  In a nutshell, an elimination diet consists of eliminating suspected foods from one's diet for up to two months to see if symptoms resolve.  And should they resolve, the food is then reintroduced after a period of time to challenge the body and see if symptoms reappear.  Good ol' scientific method.  If the symptoms reappear, like in My Story, then it's possible that you're allergic or intolerant to that food.  And if they don't, then vice versa, and the search continues.  Furthermore, in some cases, it just may be that the body can't handle or may be sensitive to a particular food at that moment.

I've actually done this several times over the course of my life, particularly during times when I felt out of balance and out of touch.  The first time I did it was way back in 8th grade.  At that time, I was experiencing severe cramps any time I ate and persistent acid reflux.  This was well before the internet, but luckily both my parents are in the medical profession, so I'd often read back issues of the PDR or their subscriptions to medical journals.  I found it in one of the magazines and I decided to give it a try.  I cut out all red meat (because it can be hard on the digestive system) and sodas (because carbonated beverages raise the acidity of the stomach).  And after a few weeks, while the symptoms didn't resolve completely, they were less severe.  And so I stuck with it, for the better part of 10 years actually.  Nowadays, I can eat red meat every once in a while and drink carbonated beverages in moderation without any problems.  But at that time, my body just needed a break and I needed to find a way to respect that.

More recently, during spring of last year, I eliminated bananas and pineapples.  At that time I was drinking a fair amount of smoothies and protein shakes, and bananas and pineapple were frequent ingredients.  One day, I started noticing small patches of hives on my midsection after drinking a smoothie, as well as minor queasiness.  At first, I ignored it, wondering if it was laundry detergent related or something in the air.  But after a pattern had become clear, I continued to make the smoothies, but I started taking ingredients out and reducing them to just 2 to 4 components at a time.  Eventually, when I removed both bananas and pineapples, I didn't experience the hives nor the queasiness, so I stopped eating both and the symptoms subsided.  After a month, I tried a banana on its own.  Hives almost instantly.  A week later, fresh pineapple.  Minor hives and queasiness.  So I made the choice to avoid eating both fruits for a while.  Now, just a year later, I'm back to eating both bananas and pineapple without symptoms.  In this case, my body was just telling me, "No more, please. I've had enough."  And I was thankfully smart enough to listen.

Is there a strict formula to an elimination diet?  Not really.  It's founded in trial and error, and it calls upon you to make choices based on your intuition and gut instinct (no pun intended).  And realize that they are just choices, and not commitments.  Taking something out doesn't mean it has to be gone forever.  While we may discover that there are certain foods it would be best to avoid and eliminate altogether, we may also find that there are certain foods that we just need a break from every once in a while or that we need to eat only on occasion or just when they're in season. 

The commitment is doing what's right and what's best for your body.  Finding balance.  And just as we continue to change and evolve over our life journey, so will the needs and wants of our bodies, especially when it comes to food.

So do your best to listen and be patient.  Make efforts to be mindful of what you eat and drink, and why.  And above all, practice self-compassion and self-love.  Think about it:  Would you feed someone you love something that would make them sick?  You have almost complete control over your diet and how you can use it to heal or harm yourself.  Love yourself enough to choose a better way of living and a better way of being. 

The way that will lead to happiness from within.  Strong, clear, and in tune.

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