What exactly does healthy eating mean. Who the heck really knows anymore. You can ask five experts and get five different answers. Wait a few years, ask them again and get five even different answers. I don’t know about you, but I am tired. I have spent far too much time and energy trying to figure it all out.
I have written and re-written this post about a dozen times, and wasn’t even going to post it at all. But with all the craziness about what is considered healthy eating, which seems to change once a month, I wanted to share my real struggle and how I am finally making peace with it all!
While I realize my story is extreme, I do know from conversations with other woman that the struggle to eat healthy is real!
Grab a cup of tea or a tall icy glass of water while I share my struggle with food and how I am finally making peace with eating in a manageable and healthy way, and what is helping me to step away from the edge of food insanity.
I have been dieting myself almost to death (no kidding) for the better part of two decades. I have finally decided enough is enough. Of course I want to be healthy, but this whole idea of sifting through and deciphering all the research as to what exactly is the best way to eat for health and vitality is driving me crazy. I just didn’t know what to believe or who to trust, and I was finding myself falling back into a part of my life I do not want to re-live.
Disclaimer….Again I realize my story takes things to the extreme, but underneath it all, it began with my simple wish to get healthy and slim down.
A bit of a back story….
In my early 30’s I jumped on the whole low fat-no fat bandwagon I started to follow the advice that preached the benefits of low fat. It made sense that eating less fat meant less of a chance to clog my arteries, as the experts were stressing could happen if we continued to eat butter! I followed the recommendations to the letter and then some. Laser focused on getting thing and healthy, it wasn’t long before began to see results and quickly dropped 10 pounds. And then another 10, and a few months in I had gone from about 190 pounds to 160.
What I this method of eating healthy didn’t mention was filling up on healthy whole foods instead of just switching from high fat versions to low fat versions of the same processed foods.
However, I was loosing weight (which to me equated to being healthy). Somewhere along the line I became obsessed with lowering my fat intake further and further since restricting my fat intake really seemed to be working, restricting it even had to be a good thing. Add to that hours of exercise it was apparent to everyone but me that I would soon loose complete control over my “health”.
Oh, had you asked me at the time, I would have with conviction argued that I was in complete control, I knew exactly what I was doing and just wanted to be fit and healthy. The scary part was I truly believed it.
Fast forward about 6 months, I can’t remember the exact time frame because things were getting a bit blurry as far as my weight loss and overall health was going (I was unaware of this at the time, but I can admit now that there are parts from that time in my life that I don’t even remember) . All I “knew” was that I was in total control of my weight loss journey and I was rocking it!
It wasn’t until after months of counselling and treatment that I finally began to consider that maybe my husband, doctors and counsellors were right, that I was no longer in control. And this is where the problem really begins. I was no longer in control. My eating disorder was. At this point my quest to be slim and healthy had spiraled into one “meal” of one nutritional drink per day and hours of exercise. If I really felt I could “afford” an extra few calories I would eat a teaspoon of peanut butter and insist to my husband I was getting protein. All along believing he was a raging idiot for doubting me and trying to get my way of success. At one point I came down with “the flu”, but spent a week in a local hospital for severe dehydration related to my eating disorder.
I don’t know what my lowest weight was, but I know it was below 110. I was not allowed to own a scale and had to turn away from the scale at the doctors office. I do know that it was critically low because my obsession to “be healthy” resulted in my husband and doctor arranging for me to urgently enter an in patient treatment program miles away from my home. I had to report for admission in 48 hours.
It wasn’t until that day, when I finally saw the look in Tim’s eyes. I knew that things had gone too far and I needed help. During all the months of treatment leading up to this day he never waivered in his quest to help get me well. I argued with him constantly when he tried to convince me that I was going to kill myself if I didn’t start eating. I thought anyone who tried to get in my way didn’t know what they were talking about. I realized I had lost all touch with reality and I had in fact lost all control. The impact it was having on him and the rest of my family hit me like a brick.
After a stressful, tearful weekend, I made the choice not to enter inpatient therapy and am so grateful that my doctors agreed that I would attend a more intensive out patient treatment and really commit myself to becoming well again. However, one slip up and the choice would be taken away from me. Several months later I was at a much healthier weight and I was eating a well balanced diet. I felt I was ready to leave treatment.
I think although my body was well on its way to healing, my mind however was not quite up to speed. Despite everything I learned through my eating disorder treatment program, I still allowed myself to get sucked into every scientific study about healthy eating that crossed my path. I still associated being slim with being healthy. To make matters worse, as I started to approach “middle age”, I also added the extra layer of worry about what to eat to live longer! And you can bet there are even more opposing opinions on that in the world of nutrition!!
While I no longer take things to that extreme, I am still prone to disordered eating, and the biggest take away from my eating disorder is that I have never fully trusted myself to make healthy eating decisions. Instead, I was following all the latest trends, filling my pantry with whatever the latest experts were recommending. When I hear an expert talking about the latest research suggesting this or that eating plan was the healthiest, I was intrigued enough to question everything I learned and tip my feet into their way of thinking. Paleo, gluten free, keto, coconut this and that, and the list goes on.
If I was really going to fully heal once and for all, I needed to stop the madness. More and more I found myself just wanting to enjoy food again. Who am I kidding. I have always just wanted to enjoy food. I know that healthy eating is essential as I age, but I really don’t like seaweed. I don’t want to drink smoothies 3 times a day, and bland, cardboard textured breads just left me wanting to eat more.
I wanted to savor delicious food and not feel guilty when I did. I so love baking, being in the kitchen, and trying new recipes, but my quest for “the” healthy plan that would make me slim, “happy” and healthy just left me overwhelmed and unable to trust myself to make the right choices.
I have always been fascinated by the way the French approach food, and after reading more on the french culture it became evident really quickly that they just don’t make food the focus. They focus on the experience of eating, which goes way beyond the food itself.
The experience of eating. Now that is not a concept I hadn’t entertained before. My whole focus has been on what I was eating! Wolfing down food (or spending all day dreaming about eating delicious food) instead of focusing on enjoying the experience of preparing and eating quality food that would satiate me through to my next meal without a second thought.
Strangely enough this very closely echos what I learned in my recovery from my eating disorder. A variety of, fresh, whole foods prepared and enjoyed.
Over the last little while I have slowly begun to incorporate small changes in my attitude towards food. It is a process, but when I choose to make an effort to choose my foods carefully, enjoy the process of preparing a delicious meal, and sitting down to a table set with thought and care, I automatically gravitate to healthier foods. I also tend to eat less because I am actually satiated having chosen a variety of food for all food groups.
I also know that there is some really good valid research and information from experts in the industry, and I have incorporated those that work for me into my approach to eating.
10 tips that are helping me eat myself to healthy
- Choose fresh food without labels. If it has a label read it and choose only products with minimal ingredients and minimal processing
- focus on a variety of quality fresh ingredients
- Learn a few basic kitchen skills and enjoy the process of preparing delicious food
- Make it a priority to treat every meal as a special occasion. No more waiting to use your “good china”, even if you are dining alone
- slow down and enjoy every bite, and actually taste what you are putting in your mouth
- eat only until you are comfortable, not stuffed
- other than the occasional glass of wine with a meal, and tea with breakfast, choose water as your beverage of choice
- deprivation is not allowed. Again everything in moderation and instead choose to savour just a small piece of dessert. I find a square of decadent dark chocolate and a cup of tea with honey is enough to fulfill my sweet tooth
- No snacking between meals. If you eat balanced meals that include fresh vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, I think you will find you don’t even think about food between meals.
- Make lunch your biggest meal and enjoy lighter fare for dinner
Bonus tips for healthy eating (still learning new ones every day!)
- use fresh herbs and spices for flavour
- don’t make slip ups a big deal, instead pay attention to how your body feels after having an indulgence that wasn’t the best choice, in my experience it will make you think twice when faced with that choice again!
- don’t be afraid of bread (unless of course you are sensitive or must eat gluten free). Choose instead to make your own whole grain breads or choose artisan breads with minimal ingredients at the market.
- Be mindful of portion sizes. We have gotten so used to astronomical portion sizes of food that carries very little nutritional value. This is getting easier everyday as I try new recipes that are nutritionally sound and full of flavour, I am often satisfied before I am even finished.
Small changes can make a big impact. While preparing meals may seem a bit daunting and time consuming at first, just a bit of reading the right cookbooks you will find recipes that can be on the table in 30 minutes or less that are full of nutrition and flavour. I am awaiting the arrival of Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready to Eat in 30 Minutes by Nigel Slater. Setting a table takes no more than 5 minutes, and if you have children, get them involved in the process. Admittedly some priorities may need to change a bit at first, but once you get into the routine I think you will find that eating well becomes second nature.
I felt a little silly the first time I set the table for breakfast just for me, but 5 minutes in to that leisurely breakfast I let go of that feeling. I actually ended up spending over an hour at the table perusing some new cookbooks I borrowed from the library, and actually allowed myself to relax and enjoy my breakfast with with David Lebovitz!!
Sure there were dishes to be done and floors to be washed, but by allowing myself that extra leisurely breakfast on the weekends gives me the energy and dare I say joy in completing mundane household tasks!
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention that a big component to healing my relationship with food is that I am practicing the mindset of not associating being slim with being healthy. I have also stopped hunting down research and “expert opinions” on the latest health trends. I am now trusting my ability to make the decisions that work for me and my body. I know that by choosing fresh, whole foods from all food groups that I am providing my body and mind with the fuel it needs to stay healthy.
I still have days when I stress about my choices, or I am short on time so I pick up a pizza on the way home. I just load it up with fresh veggies. I am getting better at grocery shopping and building a collection of healthy, flavourful recipes that have me anticipating every meal. I know that I need to add more fish to my diet, but the fear of bones has kept me from trying. Baby steps!! I am however sleeping better, have better focus and most importantly a much happier outlook on life.
I am looking forward to sharing with you more delicious recipes like this one, some fabulous tablescape ideas, kitchen tips that will hopefully encourage you to get into the kitchen and cook, and projects that I am finally getting around to starting (and in some cases, finishing!) now that I have more energy.
When you surrender to just enjoying quality, healthy food, prepared with care I truly believe your body will be as healthy and slim as it was meant to be!
Until next time….
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