Thursday, December 9, 2010

Clean Food

During most of high school and college, how I ate was focused on calories and numbers. In my mind, I was still physically recovering from anorexia and I was proud of myself for "learning" to eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast and being "okay" with it. It's a warped way of thinking, and I'm not proud of it. I would focus on the fact that I'd eaten a 400 calorie breakfast, and that was a good number to start the day with.

Never mind the fact that a Pop-Tart breakfast contains zero real nutrients. The "real fruit filling" lacked any of the benefits of real fruit and the sugar high sent me crashing a few hours later, when I would deem it either snack time or lunch time, depending on the time of day (forget about actually listening to what my body wanted). Needless to say, I was lucky if I consumed 1-2 servings of produce a day during this time. (Disclaimer: I did love the hot salad bar in the cafeteria freshman year, but I also loved pints of Blue Bell chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and Kit-Kats from the dorm vending machine.)

When I graduated college, I knew something had to change. I had swung the spectrum from ultra-restriction and over-indulgence, from exhaustive daily calorie counts to "not caring" and eating anything and everything, just "because I could." When I started my big kid job, I made it a priority to eat at least one serving of fruits or vegetables at each meal (3 servings a day). An honorable place to start, considering there was a McDonald's in the hospital I worked at and night shift involved lots of frozen dinners.

In addition to my three-a-day goal, I trained for the Bike Ride Across Nebraska and did Wedding Workout DVDs to get in shape for my September 2008 wedding. I was so happy and felt so beautiful in that dress, it was worth it to continue to treat my body better after the wedding.

About a year after that, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and took a shine to the Fort Worth Farmer's Market and fresh, local produce. I also joined the gym down the street and started to work out regularly again- frequent activity had fallen off my radar for a few months. A few months after that, healthy living and eating lapsed for a while with the stress of moving to a new state and working night shift again.

I started running again last fall, moved to day shift 7 months after that, and in some respects have spent the last year living more "healthfully" and "mindfully" than I have in a long, long time. Ten years, in fact.

There are still dark days when I feel like a silly little girl who's been starving herself and "deserves" to gorge on rich, sugary foods. I'm still tempted to count calories (count, but not limit) as a "security blanket" when I'm stressed and feel like everything in my life is out of my control. But by and large I've been much kinder to my mind and body.

So why don't I feel better? I'm still so fatigued on a daily basis, I don't sleep well, and I have apparently phantom gallbladder pain from time to time. (Yes, I've had an abdominal ultrasound and my gallbladder is fine even though the pain is real, my thyroid hormones are normal, I've ruled out over-training and under-eating, and I drink plenty of water and maybe 3 servings of caffeine per week thankyouverymuch.)

Depression could be causing my fatigue, but at the moment I feel that has stabilized and those symptoms don't feel any better or worse when I'm taking an antidepressant.

Allergies and asthma could be the culprit. They've both really been flaring up lately, despite the fact that I've been getting allergy shots for 6 months now. (Actually, I know they're part of the reason I feel so craptastic lately. We just can't seem to figure out why they're so bad right now and why things that normally help, aren't helping now.)

My entire body image journey is still something I struggle with, there's no doubt about that. But I really thought that when I finally focused on whole nutrition instead of counting calories, I would start to feel better.  Eating real food is key, and counting servings of fruits and vegetables is much more fun than counting calories. I've learned that real food tastes better anyway, and that cooking, while messy, can also be therapeutic. (Although I guess I knew that growing up, but now I branch out from my beloved chocolate chip cookies occasionally).

I've learned that food from scratch almost always tastes better than food from a box and sometimes fewer ingredients can equal more flavor. But like I've said before, real food also includes butter. And chocolate. And flour. And brown sugar. While I think I've learned the "real food" lesson this year, I don't always practice "clean eating" and, in the end, it's the last thing I have yet to try to deal with my fatigue. The last non-invasive, non-medical option, that is. I scoff at cleanses and juice fasts, and given my history I'm hesitant to officially "restrict" anything in my diet for fear that I will suddenly lose control around a seemingly uninteresting thing, like a loaf of bread.

Lately I've been contemplating a Clean Food Challenge. This means you avoid meat, dairy, sugar, and gluten for a week and slowly introduce each one back into your diet to see if you're sensitive to any of them. I still think that's a bit hokey, and I don't have any specifically noticeable complaints after eating any of these. But at the same time, I have an appointment with my asthma/allergy doctor and a GI doctor next week and if they don't have answers, I'm at my wit's end.

Thoughts? Feelings? Ideas? Am I completely crazy?!


  1. Therese, I have a friend who started "clean eatting" this fall. She too struggles with depression. She says this has made a big difference for her. Her cheif complaint in her depression, really her only complaint, is fatigue that won't go away no matter how much she sleeps. She too was at her wits end. She says this new way of eating has really helped. It hasn't cured the problem, but her stamina is up. I say give it a shot and see what happens. I am impressed with your journey. I have never been down that road, but I do think food has a hold on me. It seems to be my goto in all occasions and feelings. The older I get, the more it catches up to me. Boo! I am getting through the holidays and then getting back to taking care of me! Praying you find out what is wrong... I know it is miserable!

  2. Thanks so much! The fatigue is pretty bad, and the short, dark days don't help. I'll be sure to post when I actually get around to starting this. I'm sure it will involve a major grocery shopping trip!