Making dietary changes can be challenging. We have been influenced to see dietary changes as restrictions, limitations. So one of the questions I get asked frequently is how do I stay committed to the way I eat. I think about this a lot, because there are many factors here. But of them all, the main reason is because I don’t see the way I eat as being limited.
In the 80s we all were raised to believe that fat was bad and we needed to eat as little as possible. I owe a lot of my passion in nutrition to my mother (thanks, mom!). She is an amazing cook, very creative and always put great time and effort in to what we ate. She showed me that cooking is one expression of love. She became a vegetarian around my early teens, and it influenced my own perception of cooking greatly. So while we ate mostly vegetarian, we still were eating along the recommended guidelines of low fat. This played out as low fat, low calorie, high carbohydrate, and high sugar. I remember a usual day’s meals in high school would include cereal for breakfast; a bagel, some pretzels and an apple for lunch; and then a homemade meal for dinner (think pasta, rice dishes and starchy casseroles). And candy. Or cookies. Sweets were a staple for me, along with a hardy amount of diet coke.
Flash forward to my early adulthood, while I was raising my own daughters. A typical day: bagel and coffee from Panera, sometimes with an egg; big salad and bread for lunch, and something homemade for dinner, usually chicken or tofu. Diet coke started in the morning and would continue throughout the day. Not much change, except my sweet tooth had taken a greater hold on me and once I had eaten a solid breakfast and lunch, candy consumption was a free for all. Eating foods with fat or high calories always made me feel guilty, whether they were natural fats or junk fats. I made up for all of the junky snacks by eating lean meats and low fat options. I never put butter on my bread and even tried salsa as a fat free salad dressing, thinking these contributions would surely add up (or not, so to speak)!
I liked the way I ate at the time, but it was laden with junk. So many artificial sweeteners and preservatives, empty calories, no nutrition. And I felt awful. I would constantly be gaining and losing weight, my energy stunk, and I had almost daily headaches and migraines. I was moody and emotionally all over the place. I blamed much of this on being a young mother who was just overtired. But the truth is, I was like this long before children.
So when I decided to make a change to eliminate grains, I had no idea the significance of what I had just done. Trust me, I never considered it to be a lifelong move. I thought I would just stop eating grains for a couple of weeks and see what happened. And oh my, did something happen. Almost immediately my headaches stopped, I lost the pudgy weight that annoyed me for so long, and my sleep improved. But my mood! I was happier, more stable, and a better, more enjoyable person to be around. These things alone were enough to keep me going. This “temporary” change was a huge turning point in my life.
Aside from the emotional changes I experienced, my diet was incredibly satisfying. I had liked the way I ate before, but now I loved the way I was eating! My need for sweets diminished rapidly. I allowed myself to eat real cheese, drink real milk and cream in my coffee, whole eggs, and butter… and bacon! I enjoyed the foods I was eating. They weren’t just fillers anymore, they were nutrition that would fuel me for the rest of my day. And the flavor! Trust me, if you have gone from the low fat diet to one of real foods and flavors, you will understand exactly what I am talking about. I felt like I had been eating styrofoam and paper my whole life, and now…? Now I was eating like a queen! So much rich flavor and incredible texture, and it was good for me! I released myself from feeling guilty over eating foods that were supposed to be bad for me. Being healthy is no longer a chore, it’s a luxury and one way I respect my body and myself.
By now you are probably wondering what a typical day’s meal looks like for me. I usually start my day with 2-3 eggs. If I have a particularly active day ahead, I’ll add some leftover protein and vegetables with it. This morning it was 3 eggs and a banana. And leftover pork roast. I have my decaf coffee, too. At home I don’t snack, but at work I usually take pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or a grass fed beef jerky. Lunch is often leftover meat or fish with steamed vegetables. Homemade mayonnaise and salsa is my current addiction, so it goes on everything. And when I say vegetables, I mean a lot of vegetables! Zucchini is a current favorite, but asparagus and tomato slices, or cucumbers and avocados. I’ll eat some nuts or seeds or sometimes potato chips as an indulgence. I do usually eat an afternoon snack, and it’s along the lines of a paleo bar or veggies and fats. Dinner is our big meal. Last night I enjoyed a grilled T-bone steak, roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus, with homemade black beans. Frozen blueberries were my dessert! My fats come from the meats as well as sauces and dressings I make. I use avocado oil, olive oil, and home-rendered lard liberally. Throughout the day, I always have my mineral water, along with herbal tea.
So, you see, making this switch was not about restricting myself. Quite the opposite. This change was a release from these limits. I set myself free. Free from feeling terrible, from constantly eating, from not being happy with myself. I suddenly understood what it meant to take care of myself and moreover, what it meant to be healthy. This physical self care rolls over into my emotional satisfaction. And as I continue along my journey, I learn so much about what each of these foods offers me nutritionally. Knowing what benefits I get from eating these already delicious foods only makes me feel more enthusiasm for eating them! I will take my steak and bacon and butter over bread and pizza any day. I have never felt such satisfaction from food in my life before now. And as such, any temptation I may have to sway from this way of eating is completely fleeting and well, not tempting.
So the next time you are questioning yourself about making dietary changes, have an open mind. Ask yourself if these are truly limitations and restrictions, or if it just might be something that sets you free.