Is Food Your Friend?

Sweet Spicy Shepherd's Pie (2)

Delilah’s nose began twitching so much when this came out of the oven that I began calling her “Bewitched.”

I had a hankering for my curried lamb shepherd’s pie last Wednesday.  After finding the original post in my recipe archive, I looked over the ingredients and found myself severely disappointed.  They seemed to be lacking.  In everything; Amount, depth, taste, fat.  I immediately grabbed a pen and began erasing, recalculating, recording, and repeating.  By the time the egg timer was sounding its alarm, my oven had birthed a curried lamb shepherd’s pie quite unlike its older brother. My original recipe has now been revamped – and in the very same way that I’ve been revamping Desi, no less.  More amount.  More depth.  More fat.  I’ve needed it.  Over the last year, you might have noticed that my blog posts have been few and far between.  My absence was due to looking over myself; erasing, recalculating, recording, and repeating. Sweet Spicy Shepherd's Pie (5)

When you have unexpected health problems, and you want to cure them naturally, it usually means making lifestyle changes.  I fully support this.  Unfortunately, there are many people like me who are going to over-dedicate themselves to this challenge, thereby sacrificing a certain balance that is CRUCIAL for good health.  I learned this the hard way.  After being diagnosed with serious intolerances to gluten, dairy, and eggs, I laughed.  I’d spent my entire life as a human vacuum specifically designed to dispose of gluten, dairy, and eggs.  I eliminated gluten, dairy, and eggs, but I didn’t stop there.  Eliminating these foods made the daily headaches I grew up with never return.  Eliminating these foods cured my lifetime affliction of poor digestion.  I figured, with some twisted logic, that if eliminating these foods made me better, eliminating more would make me best.  When I found myself facing highly-distressing skin problems two years ago, a doctor advised me to cut out even more foods – entire food groups, in fact.  “Carbohydrates? Eh… Just a macronutrient you don’t really need.”  I figured there was some perfect way to eat and I didn’t know what it was.  I figured once I found out, I would never suffer from health issues ever again.  Consequently, I have lived in extremes over the last few years.  I’ve been vegan, raw vegan, sugars/fruit-free, low-carb, low-fat, anti-candida, SCD (which is very similar to GAPS, Paleo, Primal), calorie restrictive, and some at the same time.  What I have learned is that the cons of any restrictive diet – no matter how slight – far outweigh any benefits.  With all of these diets, I (and many others) found that there is certainly a “honeymoon” period, in which you feel better and you’re convinced this diet is turning your life around.  But once that period ends however many months or one year later, the repercussions begin setting in.  My body withered 10 to 15 pounds lighter, which on an already small person is quite a lot.  I had adrenal fatigue.  I was hypothyroid.  My hormone levels mimicked those of a woman post-menopause.  My digestion was awful.  I was constantly racked with fear and anxiety.  Many people told me I looked “great.” My doctor told me I was fine: “You’re not clinically underweight.” She didn’t think to consider eating more food and more variety would fix all these problems, which it ultimately did.  It wasn’t the 20+ supplements I’d been taking for a year.  I knew better.  Of course, I can speak for only me… and the countless other individuals who are desperate to recover from innocent diet attempts to better themselves.

What changed, you ask?  I’m a pretty darn self-aware lady, if I do say so myself.  And although I am grateful for that self-awareness, I occasionally covet others’ ignorance.  Isn’t it easier sometimes to simply be incapable of seeing your flaws, your battles, and what you resist?  When you have the awareness, you are always staring a choice in the face: to sit uncomfortably with whatever aspect of yourself that longs for a makeover or to be brave and act on it!  And when you have the awareness, you also have no excuse.  Awareness propels you into change.  It’s usually extremely scary.  It’s usually extremely painful.  I call it the growing pains of spiritual puberty.  Lucky for us, spiritual puberty can visit us many times throughout our lives.  This particular case began for me one year ago when I started asking questions.  The type of questions a part of you doesn’t want to even ask.  The kind of questions Awareness voices quietly in some corner of your brain that you usually ignore or dismiss with some defensive regurgitation of excuses.

Desi, is this doctor’s regimen hurting you more than it is helping you?  The human diet is incredibly adaptable and there’s simply no reason to demonize perfectly good foods like fruit, rice, potatoes, beans (etc.), all of which have been part of the human diet for thousands of years and have played key roles in our evolutionary development.

Do you really believe you need to exercise religiously for the rest of your life in order to be “healthy?”  The concept of “organized exercise” is relatively a new-born against the span of human history, as is “obesity.”  

Will you live the rest of your life fearing that different foods could worsen your symptoms?  Couldn’t the fear itself be creating the problems in the first place?  

Why are you so quick to place all your trust in whatever MD, ND, or alternative health professional you see?  Why do you invest your fate into a Google Results page?  And the worst of all: Why do you give away your power so easily?

Of course, I can speak for only myself… but that’s the very beauty of what it’s taken me 26 years to learn. The Disney movies actually were right: The answers that I need might actually all be inside myself.  I, Desi, might actually be the best authority on Desi.  Perhaps I know deep down – only beyond ego and fear and denial – better than any doctor, any blog, any professional, any loved one – what the state of my physical, emotional, psychological health is, and how to remedy it if necessary.  My beliefs might be unconventional, but that doesn’t make them wrong.  What if “conventional” is wrong?  What if “conventional” is nothing more than a challenge for each one of us to overcome in order to reveal our own Truth?

Sweet Spicy Shepherd's Pie (1)

Most people would not think of my experience as an eating disorder (let alone a reason for concern), and I think that is one of the greatest problems our society faces.  Because no matter how you label it, it is undoubtedly an issue that is causing far more physical and psychological suffering than most people even care to acknowledge.  I would venture to say it is an issue that an alarmingly high and exponentially growing percentage of our society faces.  In my book, if there is ANY form of fear involved when it comes to your relationship with food or if you feel like a slave to your relationship with food or exercise, then I would call that an eating disorder.  I was never clinically underweight.  I was never diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, or orthorexia.  But that had no bearing on whether or not I had a healthy relationship with food. Just because you may not be obviously anorexic does not mean you are not disordered.  The sad truth is that the anorexics and bulimics make up only the tip of the iceberg.  I see eating disorders everywhere I look, usually disguised as dieting or simply “being health conscious.”  I see them in some of my closest friends and family members.  I see them in complete strangers eating (or not eating) at the table next to me.  I see them in the calorie counters, the gluten-intolerant pretenders, the followers of trendy new diet X.  And sadly, I see the food blogosphere riddled with them.

I have always loved food.  I’m Italian.  But there was a distinct shift in my life when my love for food turned into an obsession.  If this has happened to you, please take note that it’s unlikely that you’ve suddenly discovered your life’s passion.  It’s much more likely that this is a symptom of an undernourished, and therefore, improperly working brain.  As I mentioned before, most people who looked at me never would have labeled me “unhealthy relationship with food.”  In our society, “will power” is admired.  Watching what you eat is respected.  Listening to my doctor and cutting out entire food groups was supposedly “being healthy.”  So, where exactly is the line?  When does something become an eating disorder?  And is anyone brave enough to identify it as such considering the undeniable stigma we’ve attached to the term?  Ironically, I believe most of the U.S. has an extremely disordered relationship with food.  Though only one third of the population is genetically predisposed to being on the Restrictive Eating Disorder Spectrum, a whole lot more still flirt with restriction.  I believe most people in this country have an inaccurate understanding of what determines a person’s size as well as an unhealthy relationship with food, whether it manifests in starvation, exercise addiction, fad-diet-hopping, yo-yo dieting, restrictive and then reactive eating cycling, or by merely harboring the belief that we, humans, were designed with the responsibility and burden of controlling our weights and our sizes.  Guess what?  We were not.  That is a myth.  Each of our bodies was designed with a specific set point in mind, and the more you try to adjust that, the harder your body will fight back to return there – or better yet, keep your weight far above it as a protective measure.  Don’t worry, there are more posts on this to come.

For now, I’d like to invite you to try your own hand at self-awareness.  How is your relationship with food?  Could it be possible that what you’ve always considered to be “normal” is actually not normal at all, but simply the result of being influenced by a dangerously misinformed society?

Sweet Spicy Shepherd's Pie (3)

Is food your friend or merely a cause of stress or fear for you?  Below are some less obvious telltale signs of a potentially less-than-stellar relationship with food.

Mental signs:

1) You spend a lot of time feeling like you’re “waiting.”  You’re not as present as you once were.  In some cases, the moment you finish a meal, you’re already thinking about the next one.

2) You’ve lost interest in things you once loved and replaced them with an interest in cooking or fitness.

3) Your memories are often more marked by the meals or food consumed rather than other details.

4) Even when you’re “full,” you still feel the desire to eat more.  You think you’re developing a tendency to “binge.”  (You’re wrong.  Binge Eating Disorder is a very rare illness and it is not just switched on or off.  It is active from birth until death. You’re simply nutrient deficient.)

5) If sometimes you merely wonder if your relationship with food is strange, chances are: it is.

6) You have a sudden interest in “food porn.”  You’re suddenly reading food blogs or browsing Pinterest for photos of cupcakes.

7) You have a collection of “safe foods,” which assuage anxiety and “fear foods,” which encourage anxiety.

8) You have a strict exercise schedule and it causes you anxiety to stray away from it.

9) You have an emotionally violent response to this blog post.  If I read it two years ago, I certainly would have.

Physical signs:

1) If you’re a woman, your period has disappeared or is irregular.  Even if you’re far from being clinically underweight.

2) Your body temperature is usually below 98.6 and/or you often feel cold when others are not.

3) Your skin is looking more aged.  Your hair is thinning.  Even if you’re in your early 20s.  Even if you’re the only one who notices.

4) You’ve struggled with a spontaneous bout of angry-looking acne.

5) Your doctor has diagnosed you with hypothyroidism, Graves Disease, Hashimoto’s, Adrenal Fatigue, Leaky Gut Syndrome, nutrient deficiency, or some sort of gut dysbiosis.

6) You know you eat under 2,300 calories a day.  Don’t believe you need at least that much?  Perfectly healthy people physically and mentally deteriorated on 1,600 calories a day during the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (more than most calorie-restrictive diet programs that exist today!).

If even one single statement from each list applied to you (a total of two), that’s enough to seriously ask yourself: “How is my relationship with food?”  Dig around on 180 Degree Health or Your Eatopia to see how many people struggled with a variety of issues that simply evaporated by “eating the food,” as Matt Stone would say.  It blows my mind how common it is for a person to spend years trying medications, seeing doctors, or settling for less-than-ideal physical or emotional health when most, if not all, their problems would be fixed by simply eating more food.  I’ve never heard a doctor say, “Eat more.”  I want to change that.  I want to hear them say, “Mend your relationship with food, and thereby mend yourself.”

Lastly, if anything in my story resonated with you, consider this possibility:

You are the authority on you.

Stop googling.  Stop placing your hope in diet after diet, whether you have unresolved health problems or simply a poor body image.  Unless what they’re saying resonates with you beyond logic and reason (in other words: IN YOUR SOUL), stop giving your power away to professionals who claim to “know” or to random strangers on the internet.  Including me.  However, if you’re curious about my philosophy and you want more details, keep an eye out for my next post.  If I’d said everything I wanted to say in this one, you’d be reading a novel right now.  In the meantime, have some pie.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Is Food Your Friend?

  1. BRILLIANT. This post should be required reading for all Americans.

  2. Lovely post. I wish doctors/dieticians were better about considering the emotional/psychological side of digestive issues and dietary restriction and suggesting that we listen to our own bodies instead of trialing various rigid diets that are no more one-size-fits-all than a pair of skinny jeans.

  3. Peter Bakke

    This is a bold piece. It takes self awareness to realize when we’ve gone too far, but it takes real courage to admit it. I can relate to the health spiral. There is so much information online that the more you read the more foods you start to see as ‘bad’. Thanks for the heartfelt thoughts, I wish you the best!

  4. Nat

    Awesome post Desi. Could be especially great as an ‘easy entry’ for people who do not have much self-awareness, but need to gain it rapidly! xx

  5. Noémi

    Desi, you spoke from my heart. It feels like you wrote this post about me. Yesterday my boyfriend and I went out for dinner, and not being able to decide what to order at our new favourite restaurant annoyed me to a great extent. As I read through the menu (at least 4 times) I was calculating calories, mentally putting checkmarks next to each ingredient to see if it’s on my healthy list. Going home I felt sad, because I was not able to enjoy food the way I used to. It takes up a lot of my time to go through these things.
    Everything you wrote here is true. I went through calorie counting, obsessively reading healthy food blogs, etc. Ironically, yours was the first one I bumped into when I started, and now you’re the one who encouraged me to reconsider my ideas of health. I am down to my lowest weight ever, which still is in the healthy range, but I really don’t want to get to a point where I’m doing the opposite of what I had intended to do.
    Thank you for sharing your feelings and helping me realize I have a problem and that there is no one right answer. I really do hope you’ve found your balance.

    Noémi

    • O, Noémi! My heart goes out to you! I so deeply understand the frustration of good intentions going bad… With the accessibility of the internet these days, so many are victim to falling down the health spiral. And what synchronicity that my blog was the first you started reading and the first that encouraged you to reconsider your health! Don’t know what that means, but I like it. Be sure to remember that your lowest weight ever could still be in “the healthy range,” but not YOUR healthy range. Weight loss actually TRIGGERS the obsession – as seen in The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Gaining the weight back is what ultimately returned those men to their right minds.

      Also – you’re half right regarding what I was trying to say about being aware you have a problem and having “no right answer.” I actually meant that there is no one-size-fits-all diet or regimen that one can follow to cure problem X or to simply make one healthier. In my experience, restrictive diets are NEVER the answer. In my experience, the answers to my skin issues and my candida struggles that I found inside myself dictated that a restrictive diet would not help these symptoms whatsoever. And despite the advice of my doctor and online gurus who swear by the anti-candida diet or raw food for clear skin (etc.), I ended up listening to myself. HOWEVER, when it comes to getting out of the hole you’ve dug yourself by trying to be healthier or thinner or (fill in the blank), I do believe there really is only one thing to do, and that’s to just eat the food. It’s to do exactly what you’re afraid of, let go of whatever beliefs don’t resonate with you, and do whatever it takes to make food a source of joy and nourishment rather than fear. I HIGHLY recommend you check out 180degreehealth.com (and Matt’s book is amazing) and youreatopia.com. Both of these sites completely saved me. I never imagined I’d be able to reverse the physical and psychological damage of what I’d unknowingly done, but now I have.

      I wish you all the best, Noémi. Feel free to email me anytime. :) x

  6. Kate

    This post really resonated with me. Thank you for taking the time and courage to share. And I am going to make your shepherd’s pie :)

    • Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comment, Kate. It was actually originally Scott’s recipe… One of the many, many reasons why I fell in love with him! Still, I made a few tweaks! :)

  7. You are so brave and honest and kind to share your story, friend. I know you’ve struggled and it has been frustrating, but I’m so glad that you’ve been able to start to find balance and health again. And now your story is helping others! There are so many moving parts to issue of eating/food/health in our society, and I enjoyed reading your perspective. Have you watched Hungry for Change? It’s a really interesting look at the Dieting industry/obsession in our country. Wish we could have coffee and talk about this for hours! xoxox

    • Thanks, G. There really are so, so many intricacies and parts of the eating/food/health issue in our society, and honestly – this is only one side of my perspective. I’ve got so much to say! Maybe we could settle for a skype date instead of coffee? :) P.S. Hungry For Change is one of the few food documentaries I have NOT watched yet – so now you just bumped it to the front of my list! xoxoxox

  8. Pingback: The Many Pieces of Peace | The Palate Peacemaker

  9. Mandy

    Thank you for this post!

  10. Pingback: Gluten-Free Pancakes | The Palate Peacemaker

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