FREEDOM FROM LABELS
Labels are for packages, not bodies!
I always prided myself on having a positive relationship with food. I grew up with someone who suffered from a debilitating eating disorder and saw how harmful having a negative relationship with food could be. When I became a Holistic Nutritionist, it became my mission to encourage intuitive and balanced eating. But, somewhere along the way, my own positive mindset around food started to change.
Growing up I was sick a lot and suffered from chronic stomach issues. In my early twenties, having had disappointing experiences with doctors and specialists, I turned to nutrition and alternative health practices to heal. It took a long time and required giving my already somewhat clean diet a massive overhaul. I had already eliminated gluten and dairy and found some relief, but still wasn’t feeling 100%. From there, I stopped eating all grains, small seeds (quinoa, chia, etc.), nightshades (pro-inflammatory foods), high FODMAP foods, soy and sugars. I ate a primarily vegetarian diet (consuming only poultry and fish occasionally) but kept reading about the benefits of a 100% plant-based vegan diet, so I thought, why not give it a try?
I became “vegan” in 2013. At first, I didn’t really label it. I would say “plant-based”, or just “vegetarian”. The trouble was, I was already intolerant to gluten, dairy and certain shellfish (serious allergy there) and now I didn’t eat any grains, meat, fish, or eggs. Having to describe that to people was exhausting - it just became easier to label it. I was a "gluten-free, grain-free, vegan" - even more special; even more restrictive.
For awhile I survived off of vegan protein powders and green smoothies and juices. I never ate out and avoided a lot of social events due to my food restrictions and fear around food. It was a very isolating time in my life. Eventually, I started eating some grains and beans and the whole just being “gluten-free and vegan” thing was easy. I was good friends with lots of other vegans and started working at a vegan company. Even though I didn’t preach a vegan lifestyle to everyone, it became a big part of my life and how I described and defined myself. (RED FLAG - letting what we eat DEFINE or DESCRIBE who we are - is a bit of a problem.)
I was “healthy”. Or so I told myself.
I lost a lot of weight - not the couple of pounds that happens every so often, but the kind of weight loss that concerns people. I lost my period - for 3+years I didn’t have one single cycle. I had carotenemia - parts of my face, hands and feet were orange (unintentional MTV's Jersey Shore kind of orange). I had bouts of Raynauds phenomenon where my fingers and toes would go completely white and numb due to reduced/lack of blood flow. My vitamin levels were low and I was having to supplement a lot. My gastro-intestinal symptoms were coming back - beans, grains and sugars were starting to set me off. Some eczema resurfaced. I was having food cravings. Even with all these clues and symptoms, I still clung on to my gluten-free veganism, sticking to the narrative that the label defined me.
Eventually my symptoms made me put my holistic health coach cap back on and start investigating what was really going on. I decided to re-evaluate what I was eating, something I hadn’t done for a couple of years since going vegan. What started out as an experiment to test my food sensitivities, became much more about my inner conversation about food. Not only was my way of eating affecting my body, but it was also impacting my thought patterns. This type of restrictive eating and labeling was making me feel confined and disconnected to my body. Deep down I knew I needed to start incorporating animal protein in my diet, but I was afraid and felt guilty. I kept telling myself no. Making it worse was that I felt like I couldn’t share this with anyone. Like if anyone knew that I didn’t want to be vegan anymore I was going to disappoint them, and let them down. I felt so much guilt and shame. And then one morning I woke up, so exhausted from obsessing about food and what I could and couldn’t eat, that I said SCREW it and made myself an egg. And I loved it!
Looking back, I can see that my positive relationship with food had been replaced by fear. Instead of listening to my body and what it needed, I felt I had to follow the rules of the label I had created for myself. But, our bodies change and so our needs change too. In order to grow and thrive, we can’t stick to the same rules. Ditching my self-imposed food labels has been one of the most freeing and empowering things I have ever done for myself. By removing negative language around food, we can eat without shame or guilt and be more open and honest with ourselves and bodies. I truly believe that when we change our conversation about food and frame it in a positive way, we able to eat intuitively and for our own, unique, best health.