Or better yet, how becoming the eater I want to be made me a better person, girlfriend, friend, sister, daughter, dietitian, and blogger. I'm finally living for me. And as I explained in my last post, that sense of confidence and intuition has had the most delicious way of overflowing into all other aspects of my life.
This post means so much to me. I woke up writing it in my head, each bullet point effortlessly playing out in the weirdly perfect way that my brain is known to do. The weather was gorgeous-- that summer warmth that's not too warm with a gentle breeze. So instead of driving, I walked to the coffee shop, soaked in the sun, ordered my favorite bakery-style blueberry streusel muffin and an iced coffee, and started putting on the page the story my inner-self had already so eloquently written.
I never really talked in detail about my gradual transition from focusing on super clean, plant-based eating to intuitive eating and food freedom because in all honestly, I didn't want to make it a thing. I didn't want my story to be misinterpreted as banishing certain diets. I didn't want to position myself against anything really, but rather for food freedom and exercising the individual right we all have to never stop exploring. That looks really different for everyone. What I do isn't necessarily what you should do. We're all so vastly differently so it's no surprise that our diets are, too. This transformation is mine. It's the most sacred part of my journey yet and I cherish that. I didn't and still don't want other people's judgments to stain these precious pages.
But it's also yours, because nothing brings me greater joy than that of inspiring others. I pride myself on my healthy sense of skepticism. I don't ever do or write anything without my whole heart. So with my whole heart, I want to rewind with you. I want you to fully understand where I was so you can grasp how and why I got to where I am today.
I became super passionate (read: obsessive) about plant-based diets my second year of college after traveling to Israel, reading Skinny Bitch, watching "Forks Over Knives," and doing all the things that I'm sure many of you reading this now have done. To say I was inspired would be an extreme understatement. It was like a new religion. It changed my entire life. Looking back now, a lot of what I watched and read was super fear-mongering.
I went vegan for a year. I fell head over heels in love with the idea of preventing and reversing chronic disease with plants. It was never about calories or weight or macros for me. It didn't stem from a place of restriction. But nonetheless, my diet was pretty restricted.
A year passed and I was craving eggs in the morning and cheese on my 2am pizza like any college student does. I introduced eggs and fish back into my diet. Again, I didn't make it a thing. It was my thing. Instagram didn't even exist yet. Can you imagine?! Back then, my inspiration came from food blogs and then my own food blog, which I started in 2011 on the foundation of celebrating plants and the journey that took me there.
It was never my style to try to convert clients or friends or anyone to super healthy diets. When I became an RD, I counseled on clean eating, on being obsessive (I didn't use that word but that's what it was) about ingredients, on being crazy cognizant of every word on every nutrition label. The "About" section of my blog literally used to say that I was a label detective. Man, I couldn't delete that fast enough!
Now don't get me wrong. Transparency is very important. I take pride in knowing what's in my food and where it came from--to an extent. I eat local. We get a weekly CSA. I choose to uy certain foods organic. But there's a fine line between supporting the local food system and not having cake at a birthday party because it has refined sugar. It doesn't have to be one extreme or the other. So much of the time I spend with clients in giving them permission to flourish in that lovely gray area where it's not one paleo protein pancake on Monday and a full on donut fest on Tuesday. We often live our lives in extremes, and extremes aren't meant to last.
And let's take this opportunity to set the record straight---I am not vegan. I am not gluten-free. I am not vegetarian. I am not ANYTHING, and that is enough. I don't need to justify my diet by all-encompassing words and isolating phrases. I love plants. I would marry bread. I still gently advocate eating lots of plant-based goodies. That said, the muffin I'm eating right now is probably made with all the white flour and sugar and butter. And it's a big ass muffin! A big ass muffin that's feeding my soul.
I don't eat to live. My life is about SO MUCH MORE than eating healthy food. Food does not have one purpose and one purpose only. It's so much more than functional and medicinal. When I think of food as medicine, I think of it helping to heal. And it does! Apples and kale and lentils are the physical aspect of that. The fiber and phytonutrients help prevent and delay disease. But salted chocolate chip cookies with my best friend and pizza with my boyfriend feeds my soul and satisfies me in a way that kale simply cannot. And lucky for us, we don't have to choose. A world exists where both can live in harmony.
I was living in extremes. But I didn't have an extreme medical condition. I'm sure there are plenty of people that can be thrive that way, but it wasn't working for me. I wanted more. I wanted to eat pizza with non-organic cheese like a normal person and not feel like some part of my conscience was going to come after me with a pitch fork. I wanted to find a balance, to be able to eat mostly plant-based because I genuinely am passionate about that cause, but also to have the freedom and confidence to eat whatever else I wanted whenever I wanted it without being judged by myself and others for breaking some stupid rules that didn't exist.
I wholeheartedly believe that one can be plant-based and eat intuitively. I still eat that way for probably 75% of my meals because I want to. But when I wake up craving an egg and cheese sandwich, I honor that. And if you're denying clear cravings and not honoring what your body wants, you should probably take a closer look at the rules you're living by.
I tried a bite of Jeff's steak the other night. I was staring at it and thinking, "am I not eating meat because I don't want it or because some imaginary diet god is making me feel like I shouldn't?" I thought that trying his steak would be the ultimate proof of intuitive eating. But guess what happened? I spit it out. It tasted disgusting to me. I used to love steak. Looks like things have changed!
Intuitive eating is honoring your body's hunger and fullness cues while keeping in mind gentle nutrition. I'm not going to start eating steak that I don't like to prove a point just like I'm not going to eat kale salads every day for lunch to prove a point. But I'm so proud of myself for at least trying it. Had I liked it, I would've started eating it again.
That release of pressure. Wowwwww. That, hands down, has been the best part of all of this. I used to be afraid that my readers/followers would leave me if I posted pictures of cheese. Or cinnamon rolls. Then I realized I'm not living for them. I'm living for me. I'm so glad to have you all on the ride, but I will never sacrifice my life and my sanity for food choices that protect a false image. The rebrand of this space, of myself as a person, of myself as a dietitian, was the best thing I ever did. It was totally unplanned. It was completely organic. It happened just like it should.
Diet culture is sooooo pervasive. It still boggles my mind. A day doesn't go by that I don't hear someone talking about dieting or negative body image or fat shaming in some way, shape or form. It's like getting a new blue car and all the sudden all you see on the road is blue cars. Back when I was pretty much vegan, I wrote a satirical post called "5 Questions Not to Ask a Vegan." I got a really rude comment from a reader a couple weeks ago that apparently has been deleted since. She said I should delete the post. She said I had no right to talk about what someone should or shouldn't ask vegans since I'm far from being vegan and have no idea what a vegan needs.
Um, hello. It was news to me that I had to be vegan to talk about vegan diets. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't need to have a vagina to be a gynecologist. Your best friend doesn't have to be in serious relationship to give you relationship advice. And rest assured that as a dietitian, it's my job to be an expert on all diets, veganism included. Long story short, I'm more than ready to no longer be the subject of judgment that sadly happens so often in the diet community.
Speaking of this community, I hear a lot of people talking about advocating holistic health but it's really not holistic at all. It's about extending the obsession with all things healthy and natural into every area of life. I'm all for all natural sunscreen, but we've gotta draw a line somewhere. That word has been watered down to nothing. Holistic, to me, means honoring all the outliers as a regular part of life. It means thinking of food as more than sustenance and fuel. It's a social experience, a precious ancient ritual, a joyous necessity to not solely sustain life, but to enjoy it.
You may think eating super duper clean all the time is extending your life, but I'm willing to bet the mental energy you waste on overanalyzing what and when and how you should eat is slicing off a lot more years than you realize. And is spending an hour a day micromanaging your diet or weighing food really worth it? What's the point? I'd rather live a shorter, happier life than live till 100 with the sole purpose of eating only healthy food. What do you value? What is life truly about?
Remember that you can't measure the joy you find in celebrating over good food with friends like you can measure the macros in the salad you ate at home alone after denying the invitation to eat out. Because it's harder, because it's impossible, to quantify the affect that honoring food freedom has on our mental well being, we underestimate its power.
Like I tell my clients, breaking up with dieting is like breaking up with a boyfriend. You'll make mistakes. You'll go back to him even though he treats you like crap. But eventually, you'll get over it. You'll meet someone else and wonder how you were ever with someone who made you so fiercely doubt your self-worth, who made you feel like you needed fixing. You'll find food freedom and you'll never look back. Now I want to tell you a few things I did that helped me get to the mindset I'm at today.
I stopped weighing myself. I threw the scale in the trash. And besides the physical act of stepping on the scale, I stopped wanting to weigh myself. That was huge! My self-worth is not up to the scale.
I stopped trying to fit into clothes from other seasons of life. When I was eating really clean all the time, I wasn't at my natural set weight. Clothes fit me differently. I was bonier. I would've never eaten an entire coffee shop pastry myself for breakfast without freaking out that it didn't have a fruit or vegetable. I wouldn't have looked past the salads I wasn't craving and ordered fried arancini as an appetizer like we did this past weekend. I don't try on my old jean skirt and yearn to be smaller. I throw away the things that don't fit and I wear clothes that are comfortable and that make me feel good. It's so freeing!
I embraced not finishing things. I used to be the person that could never leave a bite of food on the plate and now it's so clear why. Eating something deeply, deeply satisfying used to be an anomaly; so of course I always had to finish every bite. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! We want what we can't have. When I started eating things on a consistent basis that didn't used to make regular appearances, I could actually listen to my fullness cues and stop eating, even if there was food still on the plate. I knew it wasn't the last time I'd let myself enjoy it.
I started letting my boyfriend make food decisions. He has always been such a natural with intuitive eating, as a lot of men are. It used to always be me choosing where we eat out because I was so picky. I wanted to be in control. Dieting is about control. "Oh, they won't have anything for me there." Now he picks and I say, "sounds great!"
I released the rules. I started eating dairy (gasp) like yogurt just to prove to myself that I actually enjoy it, because I do. At first it hurt my stomach because my gut bacteria weren't used to it, and now I feel totally fine when I eat it! Nothing is off limits. I make my food choices, not anyone else.
I paid close attention to how I felt when I was eating. The mind body connection is so huge. We can actually affect how we metabolize food and absorb nutrients just by the mentality we have when eating it. Think about actually enjoying ice cream without any guilt whatsoever, without thinking about how you're going to adjust your gym routine tomorrow to compensate. The beauty!
I released exercise judgement and the all or nothing mentality. I'm at a place now where I move when I want to move. I had a cold and didn't work out for a week and a half. I honored my body and felt no repercussions whereas before I'd feel required to over-exert myself the next week at the gym.
I surrounded myself with like-minded people and media. They say you're the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. I filled my life with inspiring non-diet people. Same goes with social media. I did a mass unfollowing of people who I didn't jive with anymore. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, especially in this case. Out of sight, out of mind.
I stopped contributing to diet culture. I began to realize first hand how often friends and strangers say "You look so skinny," "I feel so fat," "I was so bad this weekend, "That's my weakness," and "I need to eat salad all week." Sometimes I wouldn't respond at all. Other times I'd change the subject. I want no part in fueling that fire.
I stopped the overcompensation. I stopped telling myself I wanted something super duper healthy Monday morning just to make up for a weekend of ample eating and drinking. And I started eating out more! Sometimes we need to break from the rigidity of routine. If eating the same thing every day is your safety net (maybe because you know exactly what's in it, including the calorie count), challenge yourself to eat out!
I wholeheartedly immersed myself in non-diet culture media by reading and listening to everything I could get my hands on. I send all my clients a document called "Happy Eating Resources" which includes links to books like Intuitive Eating, Body Kindness, Health at Every Size, Mastering Your Inner Mean Girl, Start Where You Are, and podcasts like Food Psyche to listen to while they walk throughout the day. I love this episode on the religion of dieting---so eye opening!
Don't let life pass you by for all the wrong reasons. Eat like no one's watching!