Making Friends with Food
Welcome to the time of year when everyone is on a diet. Everyone is bemoaning a holiday weight gain. Everyone is thinking about beach bodies and whole30 and paleo and keto.
Meanwhile, some of us are just wishing we could eat at all.
It won’t happen to everyone, but there are many reasons eating can become troublesome. An infection or a temporary bug for sure, or maybe something long-term like Crohns disease or Ulcerative Colitis can gum up your progress to clean your plate. Perhaps disordered eating is your particular hurdle and you stare at food but can’t seem to transport it from fork to mouth. Or the opposite, you struggle to stop eating once you’ve begun.
We made it through the holidays, my food-challenged friends, and the plates of cookies and pies and fancy roasts beasts are behind us. Congratulate yourselves! Still, the challenge of “new year, new me” season is just as difficult and finds ways to permeate the entire rest of the year across the fronts of magazines and in all your sidebar ads. So how we do we grapple with the business of food-in-mouth when it seems impossible?
I have had stomach bugs, ulcers, nasty medicine side-effects, disordered eating, and a host of other barriers between myself and food. I’ve gained weight and lost it multiple times and with varying levels of associated mental and physical health. After 25 years of sustenance struggles, here are a few tips I’ve found invaluable to keep in your arsenal.
1. Get Witchy With it.
Anti-inflammatory diets are all over the internet, so I won’t bore you with another. Instead, I’d like to talk about some herbs I like. First: ginger. Ginger combats nausea and is often recommended for morning sickness. I like ginger chews (you can get them at Trader Joes). But there is also tea, hard candies, and capsules you swallow.
Secondly, there’s turmeric. Turmeric stains everything yellow, be aware, but it also reduces inflammation. While ginger targets that about-to-vomit feeling, turmeric is more geared toward straight-up pain. My favorite form of this guy is liquid concentrate I get at Costco, but others include capsules and teas. Another favorite method is to warm up some kind of milk (usually almond) and chuck a bunch of the spice right in there with some honey. It’s a great way to settle any pain and get cozy before bed. Bonus: honey is also a natural anti-inflammatory!
Finally, peppermint! Peppermint is a natural muscle relaxer. It can calm overactive bowels and reduce pain. I usually get my peppermint via tea, but many people dab or diffuse the essential oil into their lives for the same effect.
2. Look! A squirrel!
Now, a lot of popular studies say to eat your food with mindfulness and intention. And that’s a great move. Each bite slowly savored on your tongue helps you feel full faster and can curb a tendency to inhale food and overeat because your brain doesn’t realize your nutritional needs are satisfied. However, if the very thought of food brings on panic or nausea, this mindfulness is best saved for another time.
I typically eat while watching tv. It’s not supposed to be healthy, but it distracts me enough that before I know it I’ve consumed everything on my plate without stopping to be anxious about whether it will hurt me or make me gain weight I don’t want. Other distractions could be conversation with a loved one, reading a book, or petting a dog.
3. Skip the chew and only swallow
Liquid diets are my best friend. Sometimes, your gut will act up because there are specific foods you should avoid. In that case, by all means avoid those foods! Other times, the gastrointestinal tract just struggles to manage food at all, perhaps because of poor motility or inflammation. In those cases, reducing the work your body has to do to extract energy and nutrients from the food can go a long way.
Smoothies and liquid soups are obvious options. I’m also in love with protein water, full of good protein-based energy but very light on digestive stress. If you’re not quite to a full on straw life, yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, jello, and other soft foods are great options.
4. Dear Diary
A lot of us with chronic illnesses keep symptom logs or food logs or various other types of logs. It’s easy to focus on the things going wrong because that is what we have to remember to tell our doctors. But I find it also helps to keep a log of things going right. I keep a running list of foods that don’t hurt, “safe foods.” This practice has served me both when my food issues are physical and when they are mental. I keep the list, edit as needed, and make sure everything on the list is in the house at all times, within reason.
This way, whenever I open the cabinet, there will be at least one thing in there that isn’t scary or dangerous. It’s been a very helpful practice through every different type of food-related struggle I’ve had.
Food is aromatic, varied, brightly-colored, delicious, and necessary to life. It can also cause us pain in our brains and our tummies and be something we wish we could get away without. If food is a battle for you, it’s not a battle you get to walk away from. The alcoholic can avoid bars and turn down drinks, but the food sufferer cannot just avoid the issue and survive. The above may not save you or solve your problem, but I hope they will give you some tools with which to keep going, keep living, keep eating.