Hi! I know, I know – you’ve missed me. There’s been quite a bit going on behind the scenes here at choosingtoeat. Living, loving, laughing – all of that. But I think I owe you another update, and a bit of an explanation. I’ve got some confessions to make.
Pull up a chair, folks – it’s about to get real here.
As most of you would recall, I’m smack bang in the middle of writing a series of posts about nutritional ketosis (you can flick back through my recent posts for more details if need be). Essentially, nutritional ketosis is a metabolic state induced by a diet very low in carbohydrate, and very high in fat – your body stops relying on sugar as a primary fuel source, and your body burns fatty acids and ketones for energy instead. It’s a pretty restrictive diet, by any standard. I accidentally kinda experienced this during my sugar-elimination program (which I started after the chocolate explosion that was Easter Sunday). And, as you may also recall, my experience wasn’t all that great – which is precisely why I wanted to do the blog series on the topic, to investigate and learn more, and maybe help others avoid the same mistakes.
The series has been HAWT!! I mean it. It’s been shared on Reddit, on Pinterest, on Twitter, on Facebook. Even Jimmy Moore got in on the action – he read it, shared it, congratulated me. I got a tonne of new followers. My Mum called and told me I did a good job. It generated more traffic than anything else I’ve posted here. That is, of course, phenomenal and fantastic and I can’t overstate my gratitude.
However, I began to suspect something wasn’t quite right.
See, all of these lovely, lovely people who were reading and sharing their stories with me and giving me such wonderful feedback – they seemed to be under the impression that this was something I wanted. That ketosis was something I was actively seeking out, trying to accomplish, achieving great things with. I did try to clarify a couple of times – that it was merely something I was interested in, and something I wanted to learn more about – but I’m not sure that message really came across. I mean, if I was going to all the trouble of explaining it and describing it in such great detail, I must believe in it, right? I must advocate it in some fashion.
Really, that’s not the case at all. And this is where I’m worried that choosingtoeat is getting a bit off-track.
When I started this blog, I was determined that I wasn’t going to advocate any particular diet or methodology. I am not a “guru”. I do not write books, I haven’t studied nutrition, I have no magic bullet. I wanted this to be a safe space where I could explore aspects of nutrition that interested me, and share what I learned with all of you. There was to be no judgement here. If you ate vegan, if you followed Atkins, if you only ate blue foods on days beginning with W – whatever it is you’re into, you’re welcome here, and I’m open to it all.
Then – and you all came with me on this journey – Paleo happened. I heard about it, I learned about it, I “ummed” and “ahhed” about it for a ridiculous period of time. Gradually, I dipped my toes in that pool, and I started sharing more and more of my experiences on here. I talked about why grains were evil, why carbohydrate intake should be low, whether or not we should avoid dairy… then, I went even further down the rabbit hole, and described – in painstaking daily detail – my Whole45. And you – lovely, dear, wonderful, I-couldn’t-ask-for-better readers – came with me then, too. Most of you are on-board with this Paleo schtick, some of you think it’s whackadoodle, but you all supported me nonetheless. And I am endlessly appreciative.
But (and this came to a head when I started developing my Paleo orthorexia post) I started to worry that I had drunk just a little too much of the Kool-Aid. I had lost sight of the original philosophies of this blog. I had started demonising foods; I didn’t want to admit it, of course, but wheat was “evil”, legumes were “dangerous”, dairy and nuts were “slippery little devils”. I used this language when I thought about food, wrote about food, spoke to others about food.
This stretches beyond me as a blogger. I started to think about myself as a person. As an individual who eats food.
Looking back at who and where I was when I started this blog, I see that I was a person who had lost a lot of weight in a conventionally “healthy” way (i.e., restricted diet and exercise), but I was also a person who had developed a very unhealthy relationship with her body, and with food. I measured every morsel of food that went in to my mouth. I counted calories the way other people count dollars. I was euphoric when I restricted my intake below my self-determined “maximum”, I was devastated and filled with self-loathing when I exceeded it. I would go on “benders”, and then spend months “making up for them”.
When I transitioned to Paleo, I thought I had healed myself. I stopped counting calories. I stopped weighing and measuring. As long as I was eating the “right” foods, that didn’t matter! I was free!
But, my list of “right” foods became shorter and shorter. Quinoa was off the list. Then potatoes. Then I started thinking maybe sweet potatoes should go, too – after all, they’re only for “athletes”. Nuts went on the “occasional” list, then the “never” list. I cut back on my fruit. And so on, and so forth…
These thoughts swirled around in the back of my mind for a long time, but they really crystallised for me during my sugar-free program. When I found myself barely able to stumble home, after a run I would have absolutely powered through a few months ago (in fact, I could have doubled it, easily). When I realised I was back to weighing myself everyday, and wondering whether a tomato had too many carbohydrates. When I was tracking my macronutrient ratios in exactly the same way I had once counted calories, and basing my opinion on myself on what that little pie chart looked like. Something wasn’t right.
I like to think that, where previous generations may have received “signs from God”, Gen Y now gets “signs from the Internet”. I fortuitously stumbled across a magnificent blog by a truly inspiring lady: http://gokaleo.com/
I won’t reproduce her entire blog here, but I strongly, strongly encourage you to check out her stuff, especially if what I’m saying here is ringing true for you.
Essentially, what I realised was this: I was eating a nutritionally healthy diet, in the most unhealthy way possible. I found a way of eating that I enjoyed, and somehow made it unenjoyable. I take everything to extremes – I always have, and it’s the most pronounced in what I choose to eat. I was either Whole30-compliant, or post-break-up-Bridget Jones – “moderation” was not something I was capable of.
More than anything, I was manufacturing my own misery, paralysing myself with analysis, and ultimately doing all aspects of my health – physical and mental – a great disservice.
I don’t want to pretend like my life completely sucks, or that I was wallowing in the depths of depression, but I don’t think I ever revealed on this blog how truly unhealthy my relationship with food is. I saw it as an arbiter of myself worth, a weapon, a comfort, a symbol, a friend, an enemy – it was never simply a source of fuel. I have spent years now oscillating between restriction and overindulgence. I’ve tried to achieve “balance”, and even convinced myself that I had done so a few times (maybe I even convinced a few of you). I’m only now recognising the damage I’ve actually done to my body and my mental health. And it’s something I can’t ignore, or set aside.
So, here it is. The bare bones truth of “where I’m at”. I think that Paleo is the most nutritionally healthy paradigm for me, but – right now – I’m not sure it’s the most healthy for me psychologically. I have a lot of work to do. And it starts with a concept called ETF – “Eating The Food”. (See Amber’s blog that I linked to above for more details. There’s also a Facebook group you can join, if you search for it – I’m a member.)
I wouldn’t want to speak for everyone that espouses an ETF philosophy, but to me it means this: freeing oneself of dietary restriction and dogma, eating intuitively and rejecting externally-imposed “rules”. It means eating enough to fuel activity (you’d be surprised how many of us under eat), to repair the body, to build the body, to support health (in all of its forms). It means eating in a way that feels right to you, and – if you want to take this step – encouraging others to eat in a way that feels right to them.
This means – get ready for it – I’ve been cheating on Paleo. Yes, I confess, I’m nutritionally adulterous. Over the course of the last week or so – which happened to include my birthday – I had sugar, I had legumes (peanut butter!), I had commercially-prepared food, I had alcohol, I had… gluten! No shit.
And I learned so much, from all of this.
I learned that the world won’t explode if I eat exactly what I feel like, no matter how sugary or how calorically-dense it is.
I learned that my stomach won’t revolt at a whiff of peanut butter. Indeed, it won’t revolt at all, even after half a jar.
I learned that, somewhere along the way, I found my limits with alcohol and figured out how to respect them. My days of tying-one-on are long gone, but I can enjoy a drink or two and make it home standing upright.
I learned that I can eat a banana before a workout, and it seems to actually help!
I learned that I can eat half a packet of chocolate-coated almonds – I don’t feel the compulsive need to demolish them all. But, even if I do feel that compulsive need, and I do demolish them all, that’s okay. My parents and my partner and my friends will love me anyway.
I learned that, no matter how gung-ho I get about Eating The Food, old habits and insecurities and fears and demons will come back to haunt me.
I learned that, no matter how gung-ho I get about Eating The Food, I cannot Eat The Gluten. That shit nearly killed me. Crusty bread is good, but so not worth it.
I have been ecstatic, and terrified, and nervous, and determined, and miserable, and crazed, and full. I have been energetic, dancing around the house like a maniac, working out as much as I can. I’ve been waking up ridiculously early for no apparent reason – my body just doesn’t seem to need the sleep. After the Gluten Incident, I felt bloated and sore and achy and sick and disgusting. I’m sure I’ve put on a couple of kilos, in a super-short space of time, but I have no hard evidence because I refuse to weigh myself. I refuse. I am not counting calories, carbs, fat, protein, or any other component of food. I am enjoying myself. I bought a chocolate bar because I felt like it, and had half a dozen squares with lunch, even though it contained soy lechitin. It sounds ridiculous written here, but that is a big deal in my brain.
So, I guess you could say my mindset has changed quite a lot, in quite a short space of time. And I’ve got a lot of shit to work through. I don’t think I was “wrong” about Paleo – I just need to start applying it differently in my life. I need to eat a freakin’ sweet potato.
I couldn’t keep writing this blog as normal, pretending that none of this was happening. It’s happening. And I’m determined to bring some of those positive changes to the choosingtoeat table.
To be honest, I think I’ll shelve the ketosis series for now – maybe I’ll finish it one day, but right now my mind is on other things. I’m very sorry if you subscribed to this blog, under the impression that I would be sharing a miraculous keto journey with you. I do hope you stick around anyway. If not, I understand :) But ketosis is not right for me, not right now.
Actually, how’s this – I’ll finish with a clear description of my current eating philosophy. Just so we’re all on the same page.
My name is Sheree, and I am reforming my relationship with food. I eat when I am hungry, and I don’t track how much. I eat mostly foods that fit into a Paleo nutritional paradigm, because these are the foods I enjoy and they fuel my body the best. However, I refuse to demonise foods outside of this paradigm, and I will eat those foods when the urge strikes. Gluten is off the table for me, but that’s cool. I eat sugar, I eat dairy, I eat nuts, I eat fruit, I eat lots of vegetables, I eat chocolate, I eat meat, and I am not afraid to try new things. I do not eat this way in the hopes of attaining a certain body size, weight or composition, and I do not weigh myself. I work out in ways that I enjoy, as often as I feel my body can handle, and I fuel this activity as best I can with food. I eat as ethically as I can, where I can afford to, and this is very important to me – I will avoid products that contain palm oil, for instance, on a purely ethical basis. I am determined to develop a healthy relationship with food, no matter how many magazines or advertisers want the opposite, no matter how many setbacks crop up, no matter how many diet gurus tell me I’m wrong and destined to die fat and alone. I’m cool with whatever you want to eat, vegetable or animal or mineral – my own choices are no judgement upon yours. On my blog, I hope only to describe what I know, what I learn, what I think about, and what I explore; I will not tell you how to eat, how to move, or how to live. And that’s where I’m at.