The Quintessential Ingredients to Change Your Diet (and Your Life)
I went from eating fried foods and burgers every day, to eating a paleo diet to save my health.
I was a very picky child. No vegetables except green beans, corn or potatoes. No foods I wasn’t familiar with, and most definably- fried foods were my weapon of choice. I grew up below the Mason Dixon line and my great-grandmother’s biscuit would rock your world. My stepfather was also extremely picky, which made my sister picky also. My mother and grandmothers were the only ones who were adventurous eaters, but by no means did they eat healthy either. Our daily meals consisted of french fries, pastas, chicken nuggets, chili, anything with cheese, and lots and lots of bread. In fact, if you were to ask even today, I would tell you that my favorite food in the world is sandwiches- a strange fact to behold but serious none-the-less.
As my sister and I grew older, we didn’t shed our eating habits. Luckily for her, she takes after my stepfather and is as skinny as a bean pole (as my grandmother says). As for myself, I’m a little curvier. I have also struggled with digestive issues, skin issues, and kidney problems nearly my whole life and they only grew worse the older I became. It wasn’t until I grew wiser with those years that I made a lot of the connections to my food choices (duh!).
As the issues progressed, and doctor after doctor couldn’t pinpoint or treat what was wrong with me, just the symptoms, my gastroenterologist finally suggested it was an autoimmune disease and that I needed to try eating gluten-free for a good while to see how that helped. I had been tested for celiac disease a few times but all were negative. I didn’t have anything to lose, and knew I needed a serious diet overhaul anyways while going into summer, so I jumped in the deep end.
I didn’t feel better within 2 months. I didn’t feel better within 4 months. About 6 months in though, along with herbal supplements and limiting my intake of sugar, I began to gain my body back. Gone were the random flare ups that left me in the bathroom for hours on end (TMI? Sorry!) or in a heap at the foot of the bed with a migraine that didn’t allow me to stand. As a girl who has always hated change and stuck to what was comfortable and familiar, I gained knowledge of all the foods I could eat without feeling guilty, and new things I actually liked. My relationship with food strengthened and I learned there was a whole world out there beyond sad, limp salads with minimal dressing. I was also finally diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that has no cure but can be managed with diet and exercise and the knowledge of what to avoid.
Today, I definitely still have issues, but a lot of them have cleared up or have become more manageable. I can now mostly predict when I’ll have a flare up, and I know how to make it less invasive before it begins. I no longer eat gluten-free, but rather what is called Paleo instead. (Gluten is found in wheat products and going gluten-free involves cutting it out even in the miniscule amounts which is meant for people with a severe allergy to it. That is the definition of someone who has celiac. Gluten is also commonly found in random things such as some vitamin supplements, beauty products, and pickles. I don’t avoid these items, as I am not allergic to it.) Instead, I focus on meats and vegetables with little to no sugar, very little dairy, and no wheat products like bread, crackers or traditional pasta.
Here are some rules I followed to change my diet from deep-fried to deeply-satisfied:
1.Cut the Crap.
No really, cut it out. I personally have zero self control so in order to keep myself from eating junk, I had to stop buying it. Bonus tip: Gift your sister all the things you no longer want or need to eat. Nothing says ‘Happy birthday, Lindsey!’ like half a bag of potato chips, 3 sodas and an opened box of spaghetti noodles.
2. It’s not a diet!
Repeat after me: this is not a diet. You want to change your life for the better? That doesn’t happen by saying, “Okay, I’ll do this for 30 days then quit because I lost 4 pounds.” No! That’s the biggest mistake (in my opinion) that someone can make. Why? Because I’ve been there too many times. In fact, my name is carved into a tree there. ‘Kayla was here, but she’s not anymore. Also, she sucks at this.’ Once again, I have no self-control and the odds are you don’t either. Don’t do this to look good in your swimsuit; do this to feel good from the inside out and look good naked. *Winky face, winky face.* If I allow myself to fall off the wagon, I won’t get on again for at least another few months. Diets also make you hate them. Does anyone enjoy a diet? Think about it. The answer is a hell no! Does anyone enjoy eating fantastic, delicious, good-for-you food and losing weight/bettering your health in the process? Hell yeah!
3. Start out slow. Nothing done right is ever done quickly.
If you don’t have a serious health problem that could shorten your life expectancy, realize you don’t have to do a cannonball into the deep end. No, stick your toe in; test the water temperature by cleaning out your pantry of all the junk and refuse to buy any more of it. Then slowly immerse yourself into the shallow end, step by step. Cut out all sodas and limit yourself on sugary drinks like coffee or tea. Set boundaries and stick to them. If you must have a sugary drink, allow yourself X amount a week and save it for a day when you really ‘need’ it. (You know- a bad day, a long day …a Tuesday.) Begin to wade toward the deeper water by cutting out bread and complex carbs. Realize that corn has literally no nutritional value and can clog up your digestive system. Potatoes, while delicious and incredibly diverse in their presentations, also do not lend a large hand in the nutritional department. Look for recipes online that can replace the things you miss. For example, cauliflower rice is God-send! We never, ever eat regular rice anymore. Does it taste like cauliflower? Absolutely not! It tastes like whatever spices and oil you cook it in. It doesn’t make me bloat like rice did but I still feel full and my taste buds are just as pleased. I also use organic almond milk in my coffee or tea instead of regular milk because conventional dairy can wreak havoc on your digestive system, but that’s my choice. Choose what works for you.
4. Pinterest is your BFF.
It’s okay if you thought salads and bland food were all you could have. It’s also okay to not know what’s okay to eat. If you’re more inclined to still eat fantastic food and make it into a lifestyle versus a diet, research Paleo recipes on Pinterest. I choose to add the word “easy” in front of that, because I hate cooking and it’s hard to find time for it. Make time! Make large amounts that can be eaten for lunch the next day. Read the comments to see if anyone who’s tried it has any insight on the taste. Expand your horizons with zucchini noodles instead of regular wheat noodles. If you have a hankering for something in particular, Pinterest it. I nearly guarantee you’ll find some sort of healthy replacement version. We eat fried cauliflower rice and teriyaki chicken with carrots and zucchini probably once a week. I now prefer it over takeout!
5. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
You have to realize that we would all much rather eat 2 boxes of Entenmann’s donuts over nearly any other meal. You are not alone. It’s okay to let yourself slip for your sanity, as long as you follow the above tips to make sure you don’t stray too far. A cheat day, or cheat meal, or even 5 cheat meals, will not make you make you gain back the weight you worked so hard to shed. We are all human and we all like donuts. (Especially the rich-frosted kind with the hard outer chocolate icing dipped in milk. Oh, milk… how I miss thee.) Treat yourself every now and then or you’ll go crazy and binge eat everything you couldn’t have before.
Overall, be kind to yourself and nurture and love your body, and it will love you right back.