OMG I’m Hungry and Don’t Know What I’m Allowed to Eat!
I ripped open the baby food squeeze pack full of pureed carrots from my purse and attempted to be subtle while devouring it in under 2.2 seconds. My blood sugar had plummeted while I was standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, and I was trying to circumvent a full blown panic attack brought on by my extreme hunger and utter fear and confusion about what was “allowed” on my new medically-prescribed diet.
I was in the throws of Topical Steroid Withdrawal and a naturopath told me to avoid all inflammatory foods to help calm my immune system while my skin was cycling through bouts of extreme swelling, blisters, cracking, itchiness, peeling, and utter pain. I would do ANYTHING to end this awful cycle, and therefore I was committed 100% to this new diet. But the only diet I knew was the Standard American Diet (SAD) consisting of sandwiches for lunch and pre- packaged, processed meals for dinner (with the occasional spaghetti or lasagna dinner thrown in to satisfy my carb cravings).
“No gluten. No dairy. No sugar. No corn. No soy. No beans. No alcohol. Uh….what else is there?”
My new prescribed diet was … No gluten. No dairy. No sugar. No corn. No soy. No beans. No alcohol. Um….what else is there, I thought? Was I destined to starve to death just to improve my skin? Does it really matter what my skin looks like if I have withered down to just a pile of bones?
To be honest, I really didn’t know what “gluten” was at that time. I knew it was somehow related to bread and I LOVED me some bread! But I also loved the idea of not scratching my skin off every night and not having my husband wash my hair in the kitchen sink for the rest of my life because the skin on my mangled hands could no longer perform that simple task. [Read more about my personal healing journey through Topical Steroid Withdrawal which was triggered by my skin becoming addicted to the steroid creams I was using to treat eczema.]
Lessons Learned – How to Drastically Change Your Diet
It was unbelievably hard to change my way of eating which I had repeated three times a day, every day, for decades. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done in my 38 years on this Earth. But I did it. And my only regret is … I wish I had done it years earlier. I absolutely LOVE eating this way and I LOVE how my body feels on this “real food” diet (I have since added beans back into my diet and also small amounts of alcohol now that I’m healed and no longer in an inflammatory state). Not only do I love my food, but I now look at food in a very loving way as I understand and appreciate why these fruits and vegetables were provided to us and how they are nourishing our bodies and even our souls.
Actually, I do have a second regret. I wish I had known the below “Lessons Learned” when embarking on my diet transformation because it would have made my transition so much easier.
Important lessons when embarking on a major diet change:
1. Educate yourself! Whatever diet you’re ready to follow, make sure you understand why you’re eating certain foods and why you’re avoiding certain foods. Understanding what those foods do to you physiologically and how they impact your “disease” or health condition will help you stay motivated during this difficult transition.
2. Don’t Try To Change Overnight!! Unless you’re in a life or death situation, don’t try to change your diet overnight. It’s far too big an effort and you risk becoming overwhelmed and giving up. Take slow but measured steps.
a. Focus on Breakfast Only for the First 1 to 3 Weeks. Take 1-3 weeks and focus solely on upgrading your breakfast meals. Find 3-5 breakfast meals that you like and that reasonably fit into your daily lifestyle. Eat your typical lunch and dinner and don’t worry about upgrading those to the new diet until you have mastered breakfast.
b. Focus on Lunch For the Next 1 to 3 Weeks. Take 1-3 weeks and focus solely on upgrading your lunch meals, but continue with your new healthy breakfast routine!! Breakfast is now “second nature” and your efforts can be applied to figuring out lunches on your new diet. If yo work, you will need to figure out how you will bring these lunches to work. Is there a microwave? Can you bring a soft shoulder cooler with an ice pack? Or maybe a thermos lunch that will be kept warm until you’re ready to eat it? Don’t worry about upgrading dinner at this time. Eat your typical dinner.
c. Focus on Dinner for the Next 1 to 3 Weeks. Take 1-3 weeks and focus on upgrading your dinners from the “old” diet. Breakfast and lunch should feel routine at this point and your energies are now available to focus on dinners. Practice cooking “in bulk” on the weekends so you are prepared with easy dinner options during the week.
d. Master the Art of Snacking. Now it’s time to focus on your healthy snack options. It is healthy to snack throughout the day and I find myself really looking forward to a yummy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. I typically bring a green smoothie to work in my cooler along with fruit and a homemade coconut flour muffin (which I bake in bulk – three dozen at a time and store in the freezer). Raw nuts are also an easy and healthy on most diets. Find what works for you and keep some variety in your diet this way.
3. Don’t Travel for a While. Begin your diet transformation when you don’t have any travel or vacations planned for 1-2 months. It is hard enough to learn a new way of eating, but doing it without the use of your own kitchen and with the limited options at restaurants is nearly impossible.
4. Plan to Avoid Restaurants for a While. As you are learning the ins and outs of your new diet, plan to cook as many of your own meals as possible. The very strict diets (gluten free and dairy free) make it especially hard to eat out since gluten and dairy are in many foods and only certain restaurants offer a gluten free or dairy free menu.
5. Prep Your Pantry – Out with the Old, In With the New. If you find yourself hungry and you don’t have any “allowed” foods in the house, you will likely resort to whatever is in the pantry and “cheating” can derail your motivation and lead to later feelings of guilt. Avoid this by not keeping any foods in your pantry that you don’t want to eat out of desperation.
6. PLAN PLAN PLAN!! Planning ahead of time is absolutely critical when trying to follow a strict diet. You simply cannot find yourself hungry and without a snack when you’re out and about. Spend time each weekend planning out the meals for the week and also think about what snacks you will have available. I cook in bulk each weekend (which doesn’t take that much time once you’re in a routine and become efficient with it). When I get home from work I have food available and ready to quickly heat up. I also bring a small soft cooler to work every day with my lunch in it and two snacks. That ensures I’m never hungry and at the mercy of whatever happens to be on the menu at the nearest deli.
7. Understand Your Priorities Eating well takes time…..more time than just grabbing a sandwich at the office deli or ordering pizza when you get home late at night. If you consciously think about your priorities and determine that your health is at the top of the list, then making this “time sacrifice” will be easier. If you are not ready to dedicate this much time to your health that’s ok – just don’t embark on the full diet transformation until you’re really ready. If you’re only ready to follow it 50% right now that is absolutely fine and definitely better than not following it at all. But…..go into it knowing that you are only going to do it 50% in the beginning. That way you meet your goal and don’t feel guilty at the times when you eat “off diet”. Maybe at some other point you will want to get to 100%, but honor yourself where you are and do only what you are truly prepared to do.
Ready, Set, Go!
There are countless different diets out there and people go on certain diets based on their circumstances. Celiacs have to avoid gluten. Autoimmune sufferers do best on an anti-inflammatory diet. Those with IBS and other gut disorders are given specific foods to eat/avoid to ease their gastrointestinal issues. Regardless of which diet you are wanting to following, it’s likely very different from your current diet and that makes it very hard to change. Just follow the lessons learned above and take measured steps. Love yourself throughout the process and enjoy the ups and downs, knowing that you are making an important change that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
I wish you love, determination, and guidance as you embark on your diet change. Do it when you’re ready. And I bet you’ll never look back.
Have you made a drastic change to your diet for medical reasons?
Please share your lessons learned in the comments below. We can all learn from each other!!