I usually try to avoid using the word “change.” It implies that there is something bad or wrong, and it doesn’t provide a vision the way a more descriptive, active verb would. And yet, when I tell people I’m doing something of a cleanse, the phrase I keep coming back to is, “I want to change my relationship to food.”
To love my body is to give it food it can handle. And now that I have a young child, I’m conscious of the behaviors and attitudes I model. It’s not an issue of what I feed him; I feel good about that and even enjoy figuring out healthy alternatives to the junk he might be faced with in social situations. So far, he’s playing along well, happily eating his own snack of homemade rice and tapioca flour cookies (sweetened with a tiny bit of brown sugar, some agave syrup, maybe molasses, and applesauce) or, in a pinch, frozen gluten-free waffles with ghee and coconut oil while the other kids eat Goldfish or animal crackers out of a box. Although we sometimes fall back on rice crackers, nuts and raisins if we’re in a hurry, his no-fail go-to snack or addition to a meal is green peas or green beans (cooked in homemade chicken stock and a little ghee so he digests them better).
What I want to be sure about is that he picks up on eating as an act of enjoyment, and food as something to be savored. I do him no favors if I gripe about needing to be gluten-free and casein-free and fret in front of him about how to protect him if he’s inherited my sensitivities. It’s also tough to convey an attitude of gracious enjoyment when I’m constantly smearing sunflower butter out of a jar on top of a banana, or spooning another dollop of coconut milk into anything and everything, and up from the table twenty times in furious attempts to get full. I was behaving as though each experience with food was the fuel stop that had to get me through as many laps as possible until almost running completely out of gas.
The analogy may have been true when he was younger, exclusively breastfed, and demanding to be held most of his waking hours, but now it’s time for us both to calm down. I don’t need that many calories, and I don’t need the extra tire around my gut.
After I attended a cooking class on spring detoxes, I decided I needed to make some changes. Since I’m still breastfeeding, there’s a limit to what I can do. But I had the sense that my liver needed a break from all the heavy foods and that a skin problem (with compulsive scratching) I’d had since a few months after my son’s birth was connected both to liver toxicity and also, on an emotional level, to this sort of addicted, “cram it in” mentality.
So I decided that once I returned home from a family function, I would try to step out of my habits dramatically for a while so that I could eventually settle back into a more measured way of eating and approaching my life.
What I initially stopped or greatly reduced:
- Eating fruit – sweet fruits and tomatoes. I added avocado back in after a short time
- Eating potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips
- Eating processed foods such as rice crackers, rice tortillas, rice pasta, GF waffles, store-bought hummus and store-bought almond milk. I continued eating nitrite-free, hormone-free sausage and deli meat for breakfast and occasionally for lunch. All other meat was organic and most beef grassfed
- Combining rice (soaked for 7 hrs in vinegar or cooked in stock to increase digestibility) with meat
- Eating nuts at all – lasted for only a few days
- Eating nuts other than almonds – lasted for a little longer but then I made my son some crispy pecans, and they were too good to pass up
- Eating nut butters unless homemade using crispy nuts (nuts that have been soaked overnight and then dried gently in a dehydrator to break down their phytic acid)
- Eating so much coconut milk and spoonfuls of coconut oil – although these foods both have some great benefits, I was sucking them down at an alarming rate
What I started:
- Beginning my day with warm water and apple cider vinegar to alkalinize the body
- Having a fresh vegetable juice before breakfast – celery, parsley, garlic and lemon or lime made with full food/fiber using a Vita-Mix blender
- Eating more green vegetables cooked in homemade chicken stock, sometimes with miso
- Eating more seasonal vegetables, including greens like dandelion and beet and herbs that are supposed to support the liver and kidneys
- Eating sprouted beans and seeds
- Eating a salad daily at both lunch and dinner – lettuce; cucumber; celery, sprouted seeds, peas, beans or nuts; cultured vegetable; dressing of coconut milk/olive oil/apple cider vinegar
- Eating lacto-fermented/cultured vegetables with each meal or at least drinking Kombucha or using apple cider vinegar in salad dressing
- Adding more fresh garlic to everything
What I continued that might seem inconsistent with “cleansing” to some folks:
- Eating one or two egg yolks a day, usually eggs from pastured chickens that I buy from a farm
- Eating some coconut milk and oil, using olive oil with no restriction, using ghee
- Eating meat but adding in more grassfed beef and wild salmon for additional Omega-3’s
How I’ve felt
The first few days, I felt weak and shaky as though I was having withdrawal from sugar and from calories. However, once I got the Vita-Mix going, the fresh shot of nutrient-packed drink made a big difference, and adding back in nuts seemed necessary. My cravings subsided, and I was surprised to see that I lost about two pounds in just a week even though I’d added back in a good amount of high-fat food. I’m now a pound below my pre-pregnancy weight and don’t expect (or want) to go any lower, especially if I continue to increase my level of exercise and gain muscle. I don’t care as much about the number as I do with the tighter tummy and lighter feeling.
My appreciation of food has indeed increased. I breathe more when I eat, which helps my digestion probably as much as the improved content of my bowl. I’ve developed a craving now for sauerkraut or another cultured veggie, as though my meal is not complete without it. According the Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Body Ecology Diet – my main nutritional reference sources – this is much more typical of traditional ways of eating that almost disappeared in industrialized societies once processed foods made their way into our kitchens. I’ve also consulted Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods a bit.
It’s been less than three weeks since I began, and I’ve started allowing for some flexibility and have even eaten restaurant food a few times. Moderation was what I was going for – the ability to not be extreme. I want for my son – who has a similarly intense temperament – to have a more balanced model. This is something I’m working on at many levels, some just in my own head and some with other practitioners, which I’ll discuss in future posts. Food was the most fundamental example with a physical connection, with my compulsive scratching a close second. The one day I got up late and rushed to make breakfast and pack a lunch and ate both on the go was the first in almost a week that I scratched.
What I’ve taken away so far
In the world that I inhabit, I have to hope for positive results and come up with a proactive statement that is steeped in possibility: “I want to have a loving relationship with food.” At the same time, I need to be careful not to fantasize about a day when I hang a “mission accomplished” banner, because I know that looking for a product is missing the crucial point that this is an ongoing process.