Mourning Foods You Love(d)
If you’ve read my story, you know that I’ve been gluten free for about 15 years. I had developed severe abdominal pain and was visiting the restroom multiple times a day with horrible diarrhea. I know, TMI, but if you’re dealing with autoimmunity, you must begin to understand that how your gut works, which involves poop, is critical to regaining your health.
Since then I’ve removed even more foods to combat the various other autoimmune conditions in addition to Celiac that I have developed. I was struggling to breathe daily by that point, the wheezing and mucous developing in my lungs a constant struggle. My knees hurt so badly I began going into the handicapped stalls when available in public restrooms because the toilet seats are higher and my knees wouldn’t have to bend so far. I was also the heaviest I had been, passing the high point of both of my pregnancies. I had episcleritis flare ups almost monthly. I was in bad shape. I felt like I was never going to get better. Ever.
Then, I switched to the Autoimmune Protocol Diet two days before my son’s 11th birthday. I remember sitting there in the Red Brick Pizza restaurant for his birthday party with friends looking at my salad, picking out strands of cheese because I had forgotten to tell them no cheese. There was no dressing on it, because I was pretty sure the ones in the packets they give you were not allowed on my new diet.
I wanted to have just that one bite of pizza from my son’s GF meat lover’s pie. I struggled with the temptation, wondering what in the world I was doing, depriving myself of foods I loved when at the time there was really so little pleasure to be derived from anything in my life because my health was so bad.
I was beginning the mourning period. I had remembered this time from 15 years before when I gave up gluten (during a time when gluten free foods such as bread and pasta were very difficult to come by). I would look at the croissants in the case at the coffee shop and think, “just one bite would satisfy my need.” But during this time of mourning, one bite will never satisfy. It’s like seeing an ex after a breakup, you don’t want just the nod and awkward half-smile from across the room. You want the hug, the conversation over coffee, the touch of a hand and the promise of reconciliation.
Yes, the mourning period is hard. It sucks. You are breaking up with foods that have given you a lift, comfort, a sense of fullness and pleasure. You are sitting in a restaurant with friends, spouse or kids, fighting back the tears because now it’s so hard to figure out what you can eat from a menu filled with gluten, dairy, and sugar. Trying to explain your commitment to a new way of eating to family during your mother’s birthday celebration makes you feel strange, almost apologetic and you are vulnerable to the raised eyebrows and scoffing comments. “It’s just you’re new thing,” they mutter, the implication that they think you’re crazy, clear as day.
This period of transition is especially hard for other reasons too. You are likely detoxing from the poisons that have built up in your system because of all the sugar, gluten, caffeine and other detrimental substances from your old diet. You are likely to feel worse before you feel better. This impacts your brain and its ability to process emotions, deny cravings and handle the snarky comments from your younger brother.
So, here are some steps to take to get yourself through the food mourning period successfully. Because believe me, you get to a point where the thought of stealing a marshmallow peep from your kids’ Easter basket kind of turns your stomach. Yes, you do get there. These steps will make that transition just that much easier.
1. Accept the emotions of mourning for food.
I know this sounds simplistic, but truly, you must accept that you’re not being stupid or trivial to mourn the thought of never having cheese again. It’s okay to miss these things. Feel the emotions, cry over your dinner plate, it’s normal and healthy.
2. For the first month or so, avoid restaurants.
This doesn’t mean you’ll never eat out again. It doesn’t mean you will need to stop socializing and shun the world. But it does mean that you need to give yourself some time away from not only the temptations of foods you are mourning, but also staying away to give your emotions a reprieve. If you are constantly faced with that ex, getting over the relationship takes that much longer, no?
3. Stop Exercising.
What? you say. But I’m supposed to be improving my health and everyone knows that exercise is a critical part of that.
Yes, this is indeed true. However, this first transition time is difficult for your body. It is having to work hard to switch from deriving its energy from the readily available simple sugars and carbs you had been giving it to protein and healthy fats. It is working to detox and shed years of build up in the system of all those things that are making you sick. To throw in an exercise routine on top of all of this will make the whole process that much more difficult. It will also make you feel worse instead of better and you may end up giving up when you really shouldn’t. After the first month or so, you will have regained levels of energy you haven’t had in years and exercise will become a welcome and essential part of your lifestyle once more.
Go to bed early. Take power naps during the day if possible. Use some lavender essential oil in a bath or shower before bed. Quality sleep will provide your body with the time it needs to repair tissue, to detox your brain, to build the capacity it needs to create healthy cells in your gut and reduce the inflammation you’ve been dealing with. It also gives you another excuse to sleep in on Saturday morning. Ask for help from others if you have little ones who are up before dawn, because sleep is almost more critical to this process than anything else. When you are well rested you will also have more capacity to say no to the donuts someone brought in to work, to reach for the coconut milk instead of cream for your morning beverage and make your lunch the night before to take to work instead of deciding to run to Taco Bell, or Applebee’s with your coworkers.
5. Change your perspective on food.
In order to make this transition to a completely different way of eating, you need to see food differently.
Food is for nourishment. It is not for pleasure. Don’t read into those statements that food is no longer pleasurable. That’s not what I mean. But the primary purpose of what we eat is to nourish our bodies and give it what it needs to be amazing. We can still derive pleasure from what we eat. But it may take time to truly enjoy the wilted kale with cabbage, versus the buttered noodles with parmesan cheese. So during the mourning period, take time to really think about how your food choices are nourishing your cells, healing your digestive system, reducing inflammation and detoxifying your body. The pleasure will come back, and the wilted kale with cabbage can be super delish.
These five steps can make a huge difference in how you mourn the foods you loved. No, it’s not easy. Yes, you will need the support of your loved ones, friends and other trusted people in your life. You will need someone who understands that you had to leave the retirement reception for your boss in tears, not because he was leaving but because there wasn’t a single thing there that you could eat. If you need that someone to be me, I’m totally up for it.