This is a continuation of a series of posts about my evolving relationship with food. You can read parts 1 and 2 here and here.
For the first week or two after I changed my way of eating, I experienced serious cravings for the foods I'd given up. I'm not talking about fleeting pangs, either. I couldn't pass the cheese section at Whole Foods without running my fingertips wistfully across the fat wheels of Camembert and hunks of nutty Gouda. I gazed longingly at loaves of freshly baked baguettes, flanked by tidy arrangements of Nutella jars, mocking me with their creamy hazelnut deliciousness. Every chocolate bar called my name. And once, I caught myself literally daydreaming about Spaghetti alla Carbonara. The cravings were physical (partially, anyway), but the real battle was being waged in my mind. For those ten or so miserable days, I felt constantly uneasy and on edge, surrounded by temptation at every turn and only one weak moment away from a cupcake-fueled meltdown.
Around Day 14, something interesting happened. That morning, for the first time in maybe years, I woke up feeling bright-eyed, clear-headed, and totally refreshed. Gone was the usual fogginess that had, for as long as I could remember, clouded each waking moment before 10 a.m. Gone, too, was the dull thudding ache that used to stake its claim in my coffee-addicted brain as soon as the alarm went off each morning and stick around until I could get my morning fix. Similarly absent? The tingly sugar hangovers that had begun setting in on a too-regular basis, and the weird congested sensation that followed a rich or dairy-heavy dinner, and the...well, I could go on, but it isn't very pretty and I think you get the point.
Looking in the mirror that morning, I had the uncanny experience of simultaneously recognizing and not recognizing myself. I mean, of course it was still me, with my usual crazy sleep-matted hair and blue polka dot pajama pants. But what I mean is that I felt somehow transformed, and I say that without hyperbole. I had become so used to waking up and feeling somewhere between mediocre and crappy that I had forgotten what it felt like to wake up feeling, well, pretty great. That's when it hit me that, along with all the other nasty symptoms, the cravings, too, were gone.
Three months later, I'm still feeling great. Better every day, in fact. What a revelation it is to feel in control of my appetite (and mood), instead of victimized by its every whim. After struggling to find balance with my physical self for so long, achieving this non-antagonistic relationship with food is a huge deal. It's a huge deal that I can look at a plate of brownies and think, I could take it or leave it. And you know what? Sometimes I take a bite or two or three. Part of finding this balance has been learning to indulge (usually with a glass of wine, a bit of chocolate, or a teeny piece of good cheese) without overindulging or feeling wracked by guilt.
This détente between food and I is hard-won though, and I can count on it lasting only as long as I keep up my end of the agreement. So, about 98% of the time, I stick to whole, healthy (and mostly organic) ingredients and completely avoid animal products (including dairy), sugar, alcohol, and simple carbs. I base most of my meals around whole grains, LOTS of fresh veggies, and beans or some other form of plant-based protein like tofu.
I've found that it's easier to maintain this commitment to healthy eating when I make it easy on myself. Thus, one of my favorite healthy meals is also a cinch to assemble. Start with a large tortilla of your choosing (I like Food for Life's sprouted whole grain tortillas) and add about a half cup of brown rice and a half cup of black beans or chickpeas. Now - this is the "crazy sexy" part: go wild with the vegetables. Seriously...go bonkers. One of my favorite combinations is a mix of baby greens, sprouts, avocado, shredded carrot, and scallion (shown above), but you could use almost any vegetable here: cubed butternut squash, radish, cucumber, artichoke hearts, red onion, broccoli, watercress...the permutations are endless. Next, add a fresh herb or two. I used cilantro, but basil or parsley would also add some nice herb-y flavor. Top with fresh salsa or a dressing of equal parts tamari, toasted sesame oil, and brown rice vinegar and a teeny sprinkle of garlic powder or sea salt. Wrap it all up, and YUM! This dish always leaves me with so much calm, happy energy.
If any of you have made similar changes to your diet, what effects (mood, cravings, etc.) have you noticed? How do you maintain your resolve? How do you make it easier for yourself? I'd love to hear your experiences...so spill!