Eating with intuition

You know that old adage "trust your gut"? Turns out, there is a whole lot of truth to it. But sometimes it can just be nearly impossible to listen up and pay attention to your belly. In a world of ever increasingly processed foods, fake scam fit teas, and quick fix diets, it can be hard to weed out what is healthy for you and your body as a whole.

I spent most of my formative years being highly active. I was a little human pin ball bouncing around from kung fu classes to soccer practice to dance lessons. For me, food was just fuel. With the exception of the one night a week my folks made me cook for our family, I didn't think much about the things I was putting in body so long as it kept me full.

My relationship with food went solidly sideways my senior year of high school when I developed bulimia. Looking back, my eating disorder was the result of multiple factors, the primary of which was struggling to find control in my life during my tumultuous transition into adulthood. There was definitely a struggle with body image that also contributed to my bout with bulimia. Being surrounded by ballet bodies day in and day out definitely had an impact with me as my own physical form took on a more curved shape after puberty.

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As I wrapped up my senior year, I started dating someone I still consider a close friend. He was incredibly passionate about health and fitness, and was a co-owner in a growing chain of supplement stores. He was eager to share his passion with me, and we spent a lot of time together going to the gym and cooking food. It was after one of these meals that he first caught me throwing up my dinner in the bathroom. Thanks to his caring words and support, that ended up being the last time I ever purged after eating.

Even though I was able to stop the physical habit of bulimia, the mental struggle that comes with an eating disorder took much much longer to subside. I spent the next year as I moved into college focusing on my new found passion for physical fitness, and threw myself into learning new workouts. I found a love for weight training and slowly, over time, I began to fall in love with this new, stronger version of myself that began to take shape.

Towards the end of my freshman year, I really felt like I was making strides with my working out and pursuing a healthier path. Even though I had finally moved on from my eating disorder, I still was struggling with how I felt physically on the insides. When I had been bulimic, I was use to the bloat and belly aches that come from binging and purging. However, even though I had moved on from my bad "habit", I was still struggling with these symptoms. What was worse was that I felt incredibly lethargic all the time. I was treating my body better than I had in a long time, but I constantly felt exhausted.

It was around this same time that my mom first got test for celiac disease, and discovered that she had a fairly strong gluten intolerance. After reading about the genetic element of gluten related ailments and hearing about my mom's improvement after removing it from her diet, I decided to give it a go myself. The results, were quite simply, life changing. My bloating disappeared, my random insomnia subsided, and most amazingly, my lethargy and the feeling of being in a constant fog lifted completely.

My experience getting rid of gluten was the first time that I started to connect the dots that the food I was eating had a dramatic impact on the rest of my wellbeing. It took a long time to start listening to my body, but once I realized that it was trying to teach me what was right for me, I decided to really start tuning in. Despite my broke college student budget, I began focusing on shifting my diet away from processed foods, and learning how to cook as much of my own food as possible.

Fast forward to four years later, when I first read Kimberly Synder's book, The Beauty Detox Solution. I was really impacted by her message, particularly her emphasis on a plant based diet, her scientific and educational approach to nutrition, and her recommendations about eating your food in an order that is in tune with your body's natural digestion rhythms. I decided to take on a challenge and used her recipes to first transition to a vegetarian diet for a month, followed by a fully vegan diet for the month after that.

Moving to an entirely plant based diet taught me a ton about cooking and really changed my perspective on food as a whole. I loved the experiment of going vegan, and the impact it had on my palette and the food I cooked, but ultimately I really enjoy eating meat and fish and eggs. I slowly began integrating these things back in my diet but kept having as much veggies as possible.

As I began reintegrating these things, I realized the one thing could absolutely do without was diary. I've never been a big milk and cheese fan, and during my vegan experiment I discovered that I loved dairy free alternatives, like almond milk and vegan butter spreads. I didn't miss dairy one bit, and what's more, I noticed that for the first time in years, my persistent skin issues had started to clear up. I realized, once again, my body had been trying to tell me something, it was just time to start listening more. It was then that I decided to ditch dairy for good, and I haven't regretted it once.

These days, I'm still a no gluten/no dairy kind of gal. I occasionally cheat on this diet due to limited options or for a cupcake I can't resist. However, when I stray for more than a day or two, I notice the impact almost immediately, particularly in my gut. The discomfort alone makes me eager to get back on track. I try to focus on meals that are at least 50% or more plant based and look to lean meats and eggs for protein. Quinoa, gluten free oats, and gluten free granola are my go to for grains, and I still eat goat cheese on occasion because it is easy to digest and totally delicious.

As much as I love delicious take out, I really do my best to stick to cooking my own food these days, and I'm pretty proud of the cook I've become. Simply put, cooking at home means that I know exactly what is going into mine and my family's bodies. It's also a great way for us to save money, and a very zen way for me to unwind after a long day. I really enjoy meal prepping for our family when I have time to, and making their favorite comfort foods, all of which I've managed to sneak extra veggies into and take a healthy spin on. Luckily they seem to enjoy the food I make, which is an added bonus. 

In terms of how I shop for and prepare my foods, I hop around between grocery stores a bit. Mostly I find myself shopping at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and our local PCC market. When I shop at a grocery store, I always stick to a set of basic grocery guidelines and make sure to come armed with a list that includes at least three dinner options in mind for the week. I also focus on sticking to the outer perimeter of the store, avoid prepackaged meals as much as possible, and buying organic foods as much as our grocery budget allows. I've also been lucky enough to live in areas near awesome farmer's markets in recent years, and do my best to buy as much as possible from our local farmers when time and seasons allow. This past year we have also lived close to an amazing local produce stand. Although they don't have a ton of organic options, I know that the produce is all locally sourced and I love how fresh the things we get there are.  

If there is one thing I have learned in all of my food experiences over the years, it is that listening to your body is absolutely vital. Our bodies are incredibly intuitive instruments that can tell us a whole lot, but there are so many dietary distractions that it is easy to lose sight of what is right for us. If you a dedicated to developing healthier habits and a fitter life, it's imperative that you learn how to listen to and trust the things that your gut has to teach you.

And if you're needing some help on tuning in, reach out my way