For the last couple of months, I’ve been intrigued by the paradox that I find myself experiencing by following my diet. On the one hand, my way of eating is complicated and incredibly restrictive (there are just so many things on the “can’t eat” list). But on the other hand, once I wrapped my mind around what needed to be my new approach to eating, everything actually became very simple.
Just to clarify, I am not on a diet for weight reasons. I’m one of those people who lucked out on the genes/metabolism front, and to date at least, I’ve never needed to go on a “diet”. However, I do have a diet that I follow for health reasons and I’ve been following it (with many adjustments along the way) for a little over a year now.
Changing my diet improved my health in so many ways… I used to eat somewhat well before, but there was a lot of junk and fast food mixed in. I’m now eating good, nutritious food on a daily basis; I’m exercising regularly, my mood and outlook on life is actually better than before and I have a lot more energy. I’m happy and I feel good!
But here is how complicated it gets. Based on some allergy testing that I did through my Naturopath, I have whole bunches of food sensitivities and a list of other foods that are harder on my digestive system. Now I’m not going to get severely ill if I eat the foods on the “can’t eat” list, but I won’t feel good. And really, any time I break my diet… things go wrong fast. So yes, on the “can’t eat” list are: gluten, dairy (except for the occasional slice of cheese), soy, peppers (really anything spicy), all beans, pecans, eggs, shellfish, cranberries, asparagus, corn and mushrooms. I’m also supposed to avoid yeast and sugar cane (meaning the sugar that’s put in practically everything) as much as possible. Oh, and also no caffeine or alcohol. And ideally limit how much red meat I eat. Sounds tough right?
Well in some ways it is… the “can’t eat” list above eliminates most fast food restaurants and a whole lot of processed food. There are very few aisles in the grocery store with food that I can eat; bakeries (previously my FAVORITE places to go for munchies) are pretty much off limits. I used to love fresh bread, yummy sandwiches, eating cheese and crackers and chocolate… mmm, chocolate. I miss Thai curries, popcorn at the movies, eggs and bacon for breakfast and the occasional rum n’ coke. I guess it is hardest when I’m out and about… it’s difficult to find stuff when you’re on the go. A good restaurant and chef can always work with me, but a fast food joint can’t. So unfortunately, I end up eating way more fries than I should because when I’m really desperate, that’s easy to find. And because I’m not Celiac, I don’t need to worry about cross-contamination.
But on the other hand, there are so many foods that I can and want to eat! If you know where to look, there are tonnes of gluten and dairy free options out there. Most of the major grocery chains in Winnipeg carry a wide selection, and when that fails, Meyers Drugs over on William Avenue has tonnes of stuff. Mainly though, I focus on making healthy meals at home and I always try to make enough so that I have leftovers for lunch the next day. I cook with equal proportions of carbs and veggies, and aim to eat dark green vegetables (like broccoli, kale, spinach, bok choy or snow peas) a minimum of once per day because they are such a good source of vitamins and minerals. As long as I have the groceries on hand, I can cook a wholesome, healthy meal in 20 minutes if I’m in a hurry, or take a little longer and make it awesome.
For breakfasts I eat rice or quinoa based cereals with rice milk and for snacks I eat things like fruit, rice crackers & hummus or plain chips. I drink loose leaf tea and water, and occasionally as a treat I’ll have a glass of red wine. For meats I mostly eat fish or chicken, but sometimes have a little bison or beef. For carbs, I can have potatoes, beets, squash, carrots, rice, rice noodles or quinoa. And other than the vegetables listed on the “can’t eat” list, there are lots of other options. Some of my favorite meals to make are salmon, broccoli & mini roasted potatoes, veggie chicken stirfry with rice and veggie chicken quesadillas.
For dessert, if I feel like cookies or muffins, I bake them myself by substituting with gluten free flour blends, replacing dairy with rice milk or oil, replacing eggs with banannas or egg substitutes and sugar cane with applesauce or agave syrup. The recipes take a little perfecting so I have been known to have epic baking fails, but I’ve also been known to bake some pretty yummy cookies and bring them to work with me! And for cookies, they’re about as healthy as they get.
So yes, I guess the point of all my babbling is to say that despite all of the complications, I consider my way of eating to be simple. In a way I’ve gone back to the basics; eating simple, healthy food and cooking or baking those foods in simple ways. The better I eat, the better I feel. The better I feel, the more my diet feels like an easy-to-follow habit. Perhaps one day I’ll introduce more foods back into my diet, but for now, there are just too many good reasons not to.
All of the above said, it is obviously possible to follow a good, healthy diet without all of the restrictions that I happen to be following. For me though, it helped to have those rules because I don’t need to rely just on willpower to avoid the foods that I shouldn’t eat. My body tells me pretty quickly if I eat or drink something that it doesn’t agree with. As long as I listen to it, I’m all good.
I’m curious… Have you started a restricted diet only to become frustrated and quit because it was too hard to follow? Or, are you like me, and were you able to stick to it long enough to feel the benefit? Stories please!