Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The preparation of meals and the process of digestion may seem like physical occurrences, but all the while, our experience of food is deeply emotional. For this reason, the growing trend of elimination diets should be looked at with greater scrutiny.
The removal of certain foods from our diet - namely the ones that cause discomfort or are perceived to irritate our insides - makes sense given our way of thinking and seeing the world. The digestive procedure encourages the notion of body as machine and of course, diet becomes the most obvious place to ‘tackle’ any abnormal behaviour of the digestive tract or to rebalance gut health or hormonal conditions. But as the wave of elimination recommendations grows and stretches ever more rapidly, we ought to question its true efficacy.
Rates of food ‘intolerances’ are at an all time high, we’re told without cure. Meanwhile, ‘fat free,’ ‘gluten free,’ ‘sugar free’ and ‘lactose free’ goods have created an entirely new market of foodstuffs. An industry has grown and profits from the idea that until now we have been regular consumers of ‘toxins’ and that by eliminating them from our experience, we will no longer be inversely affected by them. Once again, this ‘solution’ breeds reliance upon others and expensive products.
Meanwhile, where I live by the Mediterranean – the holy grail for nutritionists the world over – people are living into their 100s with a diet of pasta, cheese and a penchant for red wine. How can that be? Namely, research suggests their longevity is a result of contentedness, their worry-free attitude, their sense of community and perhaps most vitally the pleasure their diet provides them.
As a former gluten-free advocate now converted by the Italians, my weary words of wisdom are to be very cautious of removing macro food systems from your diet if the suggestion to do so comes from anywhere but your own inner voice.
I hopped on the ‘gluten free’ train for just over two years. I also latterly gave up sugar and lactose and wow did I feel incredible! My acne and eczema cleared up, I lost weight with minimal effort, I was full of energy and my lifelong digestive issues balanced out entirely. But it was difficult to sustain, I couldn’t eat with friends and things got really difficult when I met and fell for an Italian boy who knew all the best pizza places and ice cream parlours… I began to feel more than a little deprived.
So I indulged occasionally, hungry and tempted by the dripping mozzarella, reminded that an ‘intolerance’ was not the same as an ‘allergy’, I would eat the odd mouthful and pay for it in the morning. And pay I did, I’d wake up with terrible cramps, water retention in my face (especially the digestive reflex zones on my cheeks) and ballooned fingers. I would feel guilty, frustrated, and defiant – never again! And of course, every time it happened the symptoms got worse – my intolerance was getting stronger and my gut weaker. How would I survive spending time in Italy where the gluten free wave was yet to hit?
By the time I learned enough about the emotions and health (start here: Molecules of Emotion by Candace Pert) I had to admit that there must be a psychological component to my body’s reaction to what I ate. Slowly, over time and not without a more suffering,Facial Reflexology (Dien Chan Zone®) and mindful practices (see Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh) aided me in reintroducing all of what I formerly considered poisonous foods into my life. These days I live in Italy and eat everything, usually sitting at a large table surrounded by friends.
I’m proud to say that all of the problems I used to have with my skin and bowels are under control. Furthermore, the PCOS symptoms which never fully improved with extreme free-from changes, are no longer an issue for me. Using nothing more than my self – no drugs, no ingestibles, no topical ointments – my hands and my attention, I’ve been able to listen to my body and adjust my food choices using its guidance rather than follow that of anyone else.
The ‘wellness’ industry is a perplexing world full of should’s and could’s, do’s and don’t’s… I’d love for all of us to find our own quiet amidst that noise, to feel empowered by the knowing that nothing put on this earth is indigestible to us. Whatever we choose to consume should be deeply pleasing to us, rather than externally decided or touted as ‘super’.
If you listen to your own body with enough attention (journaling is one of the best ways) you will see for yourself which foods you are sensitive to. Perhaps you just feel a lot better without sugar or dairy around. Or maybe apples give you an itchy mouth or spices affect your breathing… Your sensitivities may be entirely unique and deserve respect whether the food is commonly recognised as 'harmful' or touted as 'super'. Instead of Googling your symptoms in search of advice, I invite you to remember that your design is immaculate and your interconnection to all things absolute. Remember that you are more than a mere physical object and that your mental and emotional approach to food is powerful.
Whilst sensible avoidance of certain foods for a set period may well be of benefit, elimination without a certain ‘forgiveness’ of your toxin will only serve to weaken you further to it. The advice is the same for all things in life: you cannot control everything that comes into your experience, but you can control the way you feel about it, your internal response to it. That response is yes, partly physical, but also emotional, mental and, dare I say it, spiritual.
If certain foods disrupt your system its likely your body is trying to talk to you. Remove the food and your body’s call will only get louder. Feel around and you might just find a technique that will aid rebalance from inside. To me, it makes a lot more sense to strengthen our systems from within, so that 1. our food choices needn’t be limited at this banquet we call life, and 2. we are primed to eat anything should our situation require us to adapt.