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7 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Changed My Relationship With Food

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My health started to plummet in 2012, and even though I didn’t have any formal diagnoses until a year or so later (Hashimoto’s, and then Lyme disease in 2016), the doctor that I first started working with noted that I had to change my diet to improve. We came up with a game plan to remove gluten from my diet to see if I would feel better – and I did. But, little did I know, gluten would be one of many things that would be taken off the table (literally) over the next few years.

Thankfully, I continued to work with intelligent and forward-thinking doctors who recognize that for many individuals with chronic illnesses and gut issues like myself, we have to clean up our diet to heal. For me, so many food items either cause inflammation, which further exacerbates autoimmune responses in my body – or I cannot properly digest food, which in turn causes discomfort and pain.

While it might sound simple enough to just remove a certain food from one’s diet, it was challenging. I remember sitting in front of the TV at night with a bowl of ice cream and pounding a sleeve of Oreos. I especially struggled to stop eating comfort foods during times of stress. Long story short, it wasn’t easy for me to get to where I am today with my diet, but I learned a lot along the way.

Although I could sit here today with my very limited diet of select vegetables and a handful of other food and throw a pity party for myself every day because I can no longer eat my dad’s meatballs and sauce or chocolate peanut butter ice cream, I realized that my relationship with food has changed throughout this healing process. And for the better.

So, for all my other spoonies out there who are sad over having to give up their favorite foods just like I was, this list is for you. And even if you don’t have a chronic illness, this list might inspire you to change your relationship with food – you never know!

1. Becoming One With Cooking and Preparing Food

Over time, and as I’ve removed more and more things from my diet, fast food and even eating out at healthier restaurants is a big no-no for me because of my bubble girl ways. As such, I prepare and cook all of my food. While I knew how to cook before, I’ve learned a lot more about cooking and preparing food that I might not have otherwise. From bacon-wrapped dates to chicken chile avocado cups, I’ve experimented with some pretty cool recipes that have taught me a lot about cooking. Watch out, “Master Chef” – I’m coming for ya!

2. Grocery Store Discoveries

I know that nowadays people advise to focus on snagging food items on the borders and outside of the grocery store where the produce is located, and I couldn’t agree more! When I first started this journey, I had no idea where most of the food I was supposed to buy were located, as I used to mostly eat gluten, processed and packaged foods, and frozen meals. Now, I feel like I’m a grocery store pro.

3. Trying New Foods

One of the diets that I tried for a while was the autoimmune paleo diet. There are so many amazing recipes out there, and I couldn’t wait to try as many as I could. Naturally, trying new recipes brought about trying new foods. For instance, if you had told me five years ago that I would be eating acorn squash on the regular, I would have thought you were talking about squirrel food. I’ve tried tons of different produce items and cool ways to rework traditional recipes (like using frozen bananas to make ice cream!), and aside from the nastiness that is raw rhubarb, I’ve loved it all!

4. No Choice but to Eat Healthier

I think this one speaks for itself, but considering I was given the choice of either be inflamed, bloated, gassy, in pain, and have cystic acne all over my face, or eat a more balanced and better diet – I chose the latter. Most people ask me how I do it and applaud me for being more conscious about what I put on my plate, but when it comes down to it, I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to be feel better.

5. Overcoming Emotional Eating

When you can only eat vegetables and a handful of other food items, the temptation to use food as a coping mechanism in times of stress, happiness or whatever other emotion you’re feeling, is less likely. While I still can pound a whole lot of sunflower butter when things are really rough and I need to “reward” myself, I have a much better control on emotional eating than I used to. In return, my relationship with food has changed for the better.

6. Eating to Sustain

Speaking of my relationship with food, I mainly view it as a way to fuel and nourish my body each and every day. Instead of using it as a reward or a punishment, I mainly view food as a way to keep my body alive and thriving. This is not to say that I hate the food on my plate, but I don’t have an addiction to certain foods anymore and I recognize that as a country, we have a very gluttonous and unhealthy relationship with food. Do I miss wolfing down an entire order of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings? Sure. But I can tell you I don’t miss the hold food used to have on me.

7. I Literally Wouldn’t Be Healthy Otherwise

I understand that everyone’s dietary situation is different, nor are everyone’s conditions as serious as mine are. But for me, I would not be functioning if I didn’t remove things from my diet and change my relationship with food. As frustrating as it used to be to not be able to eat the office birthday cake or pay a visit to my long, lost love Taco Bell, it would never, ever be worth the residual effects to me.

While I have a ways to go with adding things like fruits and other vegetables back into my diet, what I’m eating now resonates with me and doesn’t cause my body to go into attack mode every time I eat. For that, I am extremely thankful.

Have you struggled with changing up your diet or removing your favorite foods out of your arsenal? Has your illness changed your relationship with food? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Getty image by Foxys_forest_manufacture

Follow this journey on Chronicles of Yoolie.

Originally published: March 3, 2018
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