It’s January, and everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout diet and exercise. In the wake of all the weight-loss chatter, I can’t help but reflect upon all of my dietary mishaps over the last 15 years. It may have started out innocently enough, but my relationship with food became progressively dysfunctional over time. Never mind what dieting did to me physically; psychologically, I was a complete wreck.
The Dairy-free Diet: I gave up milk when I was 17 simply because it made my stomach hurt. Eventually I started consuming milk again, but I’ve returned to the dairy-free diet again and again over the years, sometimes only giving up milk and other times completely eliminating all dairy. It’s hard for me to maintain this diet. I love cheese.
Food Restriction & Portion Control: Making healthier food choices (i.e., restricting consumption of junkfood) and eating less is a common weight-loss strategy. I jumped on that bandwagon in college, though my efforts were sporadic and half-hearted.
Mainstream Nutritional Advice: A lot of people blindly follow the nutritional advice of doctors and diet gurus, and I’m no exception. I did low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber, high-carb, and high-protein. I ate only certain types of macronutrients. I tried eating three square meals a day, six little meals a day, skipping meals, and not eating after 8 p.m. I consumed shakes, bars, powders, pills, soy, and other things not resembling real food. I drank water like a fish. Distorted body image and a dysfunctional relationship with food? Check, and check.
Mainstream Fitness Advice: Along with latching onto every “fool-proof” weight-loss diet that passed my way, I was sold on the idea that lots of cardiovascular exercise was required to stay lean. So I ran. I also lifted weights, did machines, yoga, pilates, bootcamp, and kick boxing, and played soccer. Don’t get me wrong, exercise is a good, healthy habit. But obsession and over-exercising are real problems.
The Pregnancy Diet: This diet is notable because it was the point at which I started researching the hormonal effects of food. A couple of things I learned: phytoestrogens (like soy) disrupt normal hormone production and balance, and fat is crucial for maintaining healthy hormonal levels. Plus, fat is vital for fetal development. So I quit eating soy and started eating more fat (and whatever else I wanted) while pregnant and nursing.
Weight Watchers: One of the many accountability programs based on calorie restriction and portion control. I lost a lot of weight quickly and easily following the point system. But I completely ignored the symptoms this diet caused: cold extremities, frequent urination, insomnia, and digestive distress—all signs of a lowered metabolism. Moreover, this type of diet simply isn’t sustainable, at least it wasn’t for me. Eventually, I had to break down and have a piece of birthday cake with everyone else at the party. Another reason dieting sucks: it’s socially isolating.
WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) Diet: A diet based on eating minimally-processed, nutrient-dense, traditionally-prepared foods that are properly raised. The aim here was health, not weight-loss, but no one gained weight on the WAPF diet. When we started it, I was still fairly sane about food. But the longer I tried attain dietary perfection, the deeper I plummeted into anxiety and fear of unhealthy, toxic foods. When we did eat “poisonous” foods, it stressed me out. Orthorexic much? Yeah. My husband called me “The Food Gestapo.” I’m embarrassed to admit that I became exceedingly judgmental of people who ate regular ol’ food (if you were on the receiving end of my craziness, my sincerest apologies). Even though the WAPF diet is probably the healthiest way to eat, if I were to follow it perfectly I’d go broke procuring the “ideal” food and spend my every waking minute preparing it. And I just don’t want to do that.
Gluten-Free: I quit eating gluten because I thought it was probable that I had an intolerance to it (my mother is allergic to wheat, my father has celiac’s disease). For me, going gluten-free (in conjunction with doing the WAPF diet) translated into a low-carb, low-sugar diet. It was during my year or so on this diet that my allergies worsened and immune system weakened, I was fatigued and moody, and I developed asthma symptoms, skin dryness, rashes, acne, and Eustachian tube dysfunction.
The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet: I followed the GAPS protocol for about 6 weeks in an effort to rid myself of all the aforementioned health problems I had acquired in the previous year. It was the most restrictive diet I have ever followed and easily the pinnacle of my dietary insanity. The first week on this diet I felt bad, then I felt great for a while, then I felt really bad for longer than I’d like to admit. In addition to the laundry list of symptoms I already had, the GAPS diet caused extreme fatigue, headaches, cravings, cold extremities, frequent urination, insomnia, constipation, and loss of appetite. I was sick, sad, and tired of dieting.
In my quest for relief, I came across several blog posts from other people who tried the GAPS diet, felt terrible, and decided to follow Matt Stone’s advice in his book “Diet Recovery.” The result? They felt better. A lot better. So that’s exactly what I did.
Stay tuned for my next post, “Eat the Food.”