Controlled Diet Improves Mental and Physical Health

My whole life as far back as I can remember has been spent compulsively eating lots of sugar-rich foods. I remember coming home from school and raiding the kitchen cabinets for tasty treats to eat while watching television. That’s not to say that I didn’t eat some nutritious food from time to time, but there was certainly a great deal of empty-calorie bingeing. I developed an emotional attachment to eating; it became something that I did mindlessly when feeling lonely, afraid or bored. During my first stint at college, I would eat a pint of Ben&Jerry’s before bed on a whim at the same time that I was seeing the nutritionist at the school’s wellness center about my out-of-control habit. I was very secretive about eating, something which persists even today, as it had become a source of embarassment to me. I was ashamed of my lack of self-control.

Judging from the increasing obesity level in the US and around the globe, it seems clear that I’m not alone in my addiction to unhealthy foods. Food is such a familiar comfort, and we’ve become very used to the sugar and preservative laden convenience foods that fill the supermarket shelves. The phrase “convenience kills” comes to mind. Indeed, one of my long-time sticking points with eating food that was better for me was that it always seemed to take longer to prepare than my junk food favourites. I would enter into the kitchen and inevitably pull that which was instant out of the cabinet instead of taking a few moments to make something that would better satisfy my hunger and nourish my body.

I remember when I was studying nutrition in midwifery school, my teacher suggested that we encourage our clients to reduce their intake of sugar. She suggested that one or two treats per week was a good target to have our expecting mothers shoot for, but had to acknowledge that for some it might be a start to just get them down to one sugary serving per day. Many of the other students and I smiled sheepishly and said that it would be a start to get ourselves down to one serving per day. My midwifery training did a lot to reinforce in me the importance of a good, varied diet, even though I was still a long way from it myself. It introduced me to the notion of food as preventative medicine.

Last May, I experienced for myself the healing power of a well-chosen diet after I began seeing an acupuncturist. I went initially to deal with an insistent pain in my foot which had been worsening over a few months. My acupuncturist recommended that I stop eating wheat and dairy, which I promptly did, as wheat was inflammatory and dairy encouraged mucousy dampness. It somehow didn’t feel like the radical change that it really was at the time; it seemed very right to do. Feeling good and supported in the decision was critical to making it easier, as was the fact that due to many people’s allergies and food sensitivities, there are lots of wheat-free and dairy-free products out there these days.

In addition to the foot issue subsiding, I also stopped taking the low dose of Lithium I had been on for the emotional and mental challenges which had arisen after re-enrolling in university. I had been glad to have the support of the drug, but was even more glad to have discovered that I could create the inner stability I needed through careful eating. Later on, my acupuncturist suggested that I would do well to also eliminate coffee, chocolate and refined sugar from my diet, which I have taken to heart. That’s not to say that I don’t eat these things on occasion; sometimes I weigh a situation and opt to eat something which is on the Do Not Eat list, knowing that it certainly won’t kill me but that it might indeed make me feel wonky for a day.

So, I had pizza for the first time in over a year at Tony’s going away party, and I did have a cup of coffee at the open mic night last week, but these occasional hits are nothing like the consumption levels of my past. My body feels so great when I’m being very conscientious about eating. I have friends who, upon hearing about my restricted diet, ask what there is left to eat. Greens greens greens, I say! I’m thrilled to finally have come into some good vegetable habits. I’ve also become very fond of fermented foods, particularly lacto-fermented vegetables like carrots and cabbage. Mmm, a few spoons of that on some chopped up kale with some olive oil and capers has become something of a house favourite.

Seriously, though, vegetables. So good for you, especially when they’re organic and local. If you are fortunate enough to live in proximity to a farmer’s market, what an adventure in food it can be! And it’s an adventure in healthy living, as is exploring the world of grains beyond wheat. I guess the thing that becomes important is to really take stock of what you’re putting into your body. If it consists of lots of sugar, fat and preservatives, consider changing that. It makes such a difference when you put food full of vitality and nutrients into your system as opposed to the processed garbage many people shove down their craw.

Your body is your self. For all of our mental posturings, we’re in it until we die, so why not feed it with the best food possible? Liven up your diet and liven up your life. Really. It makes such a difference when you can get past food as an emotional, sugary crutch and fuel your system with what it really wants to run on.

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