GAPS Diet Days 27-28: Overcoming a Mindless Eating Disorder

I have an eating disorder.  I am realizing that it is one of the biggest barriers to discovering my optimum health and happiness. It’s called mindless eating, or even worse, guilty eating.  I would bet that the overwhelming majority of Americans suffer the same affliction. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly when my mindless eating disorder started.

I grew up in a healthy home.  My mom - a fitness instructor, massage therapist and healthy cook - was always reading about the latest health trends and trying out the newest thing in healthy eating.  My parents were also big on holistic medicine.  They made their own homeopathic tinctures to treat our seasonal allergies and gave us herbs instead of medicine for colds.  I was fortunate to be a healthy, active child and don’t ever remember going to the doctor except for mandatory vaccinations.

Overcoming a Mindless Eating Disorder
Overcoming a Mindless Eating Disorder

My parents and my home environment had a big influence on my own values about health.  Following my mom around the kitchen, I learned early how to substitute ingredients in recipes to make them healthier – wheat flour for white, yogurt for butter, honey for sugar.  I credit my ability to make almost any recipe Paleo-approved today to my mom’s mentorship when I was young.  I also still have a strong preference for holistic preventative medicine.  Getting me to go to a Western doctor is a real challenge.  I will try almost anything (homeopathics, herbal supplements, acupuncture, meditation, change in diet) to take care of an affliction before I will head to a standard care doctor or take a prescribed or over the counter medicine.  For the most part this strategy has worked well, barring the occasional outlier like the bacterial skin infection I left go untreated for entirely too long hoping that homeopathic ointments and colloidal silver would do the trick (they didn’t).My mom instilled in me the belief that we each have the capacity to heal ourselves through proper diet, ample exercise and natural remedies.  I credit my passion for health and wellness, in large part, to her.  But like any strong belief, there was always the potential to take things too far.  And so I did.

In my early teens, I began to suffer the negative effects of chronic inflammation, likely the combined result of having a big sweet tooth growing up, a genetic predisposition and internalized stress (I’ve been an overachiever my whole life).  What began with acne and a red face eventually became a leaky gut and compromised immune system that presented as brain fog, chronic fatigue, bloated abdomen and skin conditions.  My acupuncturist advised me, at age 16, to cut all processed sugar out of my diet.  I became intensely committed to sugar-free living for the next four years, to the point of developing a totally imbalanced fear that any sugary food could cause my delicate health to be compromised.  In a world full of desserts, being die-hard about not eating sugar was no easy feat.  Once in a while, I would shamefully sneak a bite of ice cream or a late night cookie, all the while feeling guilty and telling myself “I shouldn’t eat this” or “this is going to make me sick.”

In time, as I continued to stress myself out trying to be perfectly adherent to a sugar-free diet, telling myself that any indulgence was a failure, I developed even more food sensitivities (likely a result of chronic stress): all sugars (including fruits), gluten, dairy, grains, seeds and nuts, eggs.  My diet became so restricted that I felt like I couldn’t eat anything, and everything I did eat, even if “approved,” seemed to make me feel sick (leaky gut syndrome at its finest!).  I was living in fear that every food had the potential to wreak havoc in my body, and I became obsessed with trying to find the “right” foods that would somehow magically heal me and help me regain control over my health.

My mindless eating disorder was never about maintaining the perfect weight, but instead about an obsession with finding optimum health.  To the point that the obsession itself became the biggest detriment to the end goal of better health.

Environment also had a big impact on my mindless eating disorder. I was living in Los Angeles at the time when my food sensitivities and chronic inflammation were at their worst.  It was a toxic environment: air and water pollution, traffic, chronic stress, pervasive materialism, late nights, rush rush rush, consume consume consume.  While life in LA was fun, interesting and constantly stimulating, I never slept enough, would mindlessly eat at my desk between meetings or on the run to social events, and found myself being sucked in to the ever-present culture of always wanting more.  After three years playing the “game,” I was physically exhausted, emotionally drained and suffering from some serious chronic inflammation.

My recent move to the much more laid back San Diego certainly put me in a healthier environment.  People just aren’t in nearly as much of a hurry here.  And the past month on the GAPS Introduction Diet has been an opportunity to recharge – to get back to a place of balance in my eating. The GAPS Diet has given my body the time and space it needs to rediscover a sense of calm.  To hit the refresh and reset button.  To take some of the pressure off and tune in to what my body needs.

Reflecting on my relationship with food, a strong memory came up for me recently.  I was five years old, sitting on the back step of my parent’s house on a hot summer day.  I was eating a Popsicle – orange flavored – and the hot sun was causing it to melt and drip down my fingers.  My little white cat was sitting there with me, and we were taking turns licking the Popsicle and my sticky fingers.  In that sparkling moment, that Popsicle was the best thing I had ever tasted.  It was the perfect food (and unhealthy at that!) – refreshing, sweet, cooling, blissful.

Food is amazing.  I love everything about food.  I love how the preparation of food allows for the transformation of raw ingredients from the earth into art on a plate.  I love how spices can capture the essence of a culture and stir up such strong memories of times well spent.  I love how food nourishes us and gives us life.  I love how sustainably sourced foods have such a strong impact on the environment.  I love the way that comfort foods bring me back to mom’s kitchen with just one bite.  I love how food brings people together – meals as centerpieces of socialization and sharing of stories.

I want to eat every food from this point forward with the same amount of gratitude and joy that I felt eating that Popsicle on that perfect summer day.

The first step for me is to slow down.  To be more mindful in my eating.  To chew every bite and savor it.  To get up from my desk and distractions and just sit with my food and be consciously aware of the flavors and nutrients and beauty on my plate.  Good food is a gift.  I am so grateful for abundant access to healthy foods that nourish me.  I feel sad to have wasted so many years lost in the negativity of mindless, guilty eating.

I’ve been telling myself for years that I’m not allowed to have certain foods.  It’s no wonder that my body was having a hard time digesting the mixed signals.  Here I am eating this dessert or piece of bread and telling myself that it’s going to make me feel bad later.  Worrying about the stomachache or bloating or inflammation it will likely cause.  And what happens?  My stomach hurts and I am bloated and inflamed. It’s a stupid self-fulfilling prophecy.

A healthy relationship with food is about nurturing intentions.  I am choosing from this point forward to let go of negative thoughts about food:

“I can’t eat this food.”

“This is going to make me feel bad.”

“I shouldn’t eat this.”

These thoughts have become pervasive.  I have a lot of work to do in letting them go.

I am committing today to start sending love to my gut and to practice mindfulness at every meal.  One of most important principles in Ayurvedic teachings is of the agni - the digestive fire.  Cultivating a strong digestive fire from within allows the body to turn toxic foods, toxic experiences, and a toxic environment into sweet nectar.

Part of the GAPS Diet journey for me is about letting go of beliefs that no longer serve me.  One such belief is that my body has a hard time processing a number of inflammatory or toxic foods.  This is simply untrue, and certainly hasn’t been serving me in my journey towards optimum health.

I am working towards letting this all go.  My body is healthy and strong.  I am balanced.  Food is an amazing gift to be honored and enjoyed. These are my new mantras.

I am not advocating that we can eat whatever we feel like so long as we tell ourselves that it’s nourishing.  If I eat French fries and ice cream every day, even if I love every bite, there may still be some long-term negative health effects (although if I had the capacity to truly love these foods without any guilt, perhaps I might be okay after all).  On the flip side, if I worry about getting sick with every meal I eat, even if the foods I am eating should be nourishing, I am setting myself up for health issues (possibly even more pronounced) all the same.  This is a journey of moderation.

As I continue to live in a way that fosters healing – getting ample sleep, listening to my body’s needs, fueling my digestive fire with foods that nourish and heal, and loving every bite that I choose to put in my body – I am opening up the path towards optimum health and happiness.  And the best thing is – I get to mindfully enjoy the beautiful and wondrous gift of food at every meal.

Day 27 Foods

Probiotic, bone broth, eggs scrambled in ghee, avocado with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, sauerkraut, boiled chicken, steamed broccoli with ghee, rooibos tea, organic green juice, cucumber and tomato salad with feta cheese (not GAPS), Moroccan vegetable stew (lots of spices, potatoes and night shades), handful of organic dried apricots

Day 27 Symptoms

  • Feeling manic and anxious while falling asleep
  • Woke up early without an alarm, not enough sleep
  • Bloating and constipation
  • Feeling happy and energized
  • Strength and focus at yoga, improved balance
  • Sore throat after surfing in dirty water at 1 p.m.
  • Puffy stomach and gassy from 2-4:30 p.m. after eating organic dried apricots
  • Sleepy at 4:30 p.m.
  • Enlarged breasts
  • Stomach cramps from 4:30-5:30
  • Happy and playful from 7:30-10:30
  • Felt okay after eating non-GAPS Introduction Diet foods (spices, potatoes, night shades, feta cheese)
  • Sugar cravings and mindless eating from 10:30-11:30 p.m.

Day 28 Foods

Probiotic, bone broth, Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Soup, boiled chicken, sauerkraut, eggs over-easy, organic green juice (kale, dandelion, carrot, celery, cucumber, ginger), kale chips (tea seed oil, sea salt, nutritional yeast, organic kale), zucchini with olive oil and pesto (basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts), slow cooker chicken (chicken, mushrooms, onions, garlic, tomato salsa, cumin), organic broccoli with ghee, grassfed Greek yogurt, strawberries, organic dried apricots

Day 28 Symptoms

  • Slept restlessly, difficulty waking up
  • Stomach cramps, bloating, and constipation upon waking
  • Feeling hung-over, sleepy, low energy
  • Headache throughout the morning
  • Clumsy, lack of focus and brain fog
  • Antisocial and demotivated
  • Negative self-talk
  • Tired throughout the day
  • Feelings of sadness from 3-8 p.m.
  • Sugar cravings from 6-9 p.m.
  • Sleepy and fatigue at 9 p.m.