Have you grieved a diet change?
When my infant son (breast fed) and I were dealing with our health issues, it was important for me to change the way I ate to manage our symptoms and promote health – there was a lot at stake. I was fighting for my son to gain weight, because he wasn’t growing as a baby should. I was trying to gain weight, too, because I was losing weight without control; and for me diet was also tied to headaches, energy level and ability to focus, skin rashes, as well as environmental allergies. I had good incentive to change the way I ate; even so, I grieved what I lost in that change.
I felt lost. When I changed my diet, I lost a lot of what was familiar to me. I stopped eating things like milk, garlic, onions, wheat, and tomatoes, for example, because when I didn’t eat those foods I felt better. With these food cuts, I lost the ability to eat many favourite foods, like pizza, pasta, or even a teriyaki stir fry. Convenience meals were gone for me – no sandwiches, cans of soup, or frozen fish sticks. I essentially couldn’t eat out. I couldn’t default to my most familiar food choices, and the options that were left were so foreign to me.
I also mourned the foods I connected to special celebrations, like birthdays, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. No green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup. No creamy spinach dip. No cake, ice cream, cookies, candies or pie. So many foods that meant celebration, family, and friends were lost to me.
I felt food was boring and disappointing. I had a limited range of foods that I could eat, and few of them were foods that I really enjoyed. I no longer look forward to meal or snack time like I had before. I longed for the foods that were familiar to me, foods that were rich in flavour, and foods that helped me feel satisfied until the next meal. All I could think about was the long list of foods I couldn’t eat.
I was jealous and resentful. It was especially hard to enjoy my meals and snacks when I was eating next to family members, friends, or colleagues who were eating foods I loved. The differences in meals only reminded me of what I was missing. I felt left out. I longed to enjoy food the way the people around me were enjoying food. I longed to connect over shared pleasure of a meal.
Food is so much more than nourishment. It is identity. It is comfort. It is satisfaction. It is celebration. It is community. When I changed what I ate, all these areas of my life suffered. I hated what my food options had become. I grieved for my old way of eating.
It was important to grieve, to recognize all that I lost in my lifestyle change. But it became unhealthy when I got stuck in misery.
Finally, I decided I didn’t want to be miserable anymore. I wanted to enjoy life, and a big part of that was being able to enjoy food, again.
At one level, it would have been so easy to choose the foods I knew and loved, to get the satisfaction that I longed for. But the price of making that choice, the way I suffered with something like a hangover after eating those foods, wasn’t worth it for me.
The only choice I could make was to enjoy the food I could safely eat. First, I shifted my focus to what I could it, instead of what I couldn’t. Then I committed to finding ways to make the foods I could eat taste good. When I felt satisfied by what I was eating, I could also let go of jealousy – even if others around me were eating what I couldn’t, I could be happy that they found pleasure in their food. (Unless there were fresh brownies! lol. Those smelled so amazing! Too painful!)
Choosing a different perspective allowed me to be happy and grateful again. I had to work at it, but it became possible when I acted on two important goals:
1. the food I ate had to be full of flavour
2. the food preparation had to be convenient – at least at some level
Sticking to these goals has helped me eat an unconventional diet for nearly a decade.
How does a person meet those goals? It will be different for each person – it depends on what a person can eat, what they enjoy, and can depend on what skill and knowledge they have in the kitchen.
Need examples? Next month I’ll share what it looks like for me.
Want help figuring out how you could apply those goals for yourself? I would be happy to have a conversation to explore it.