What Dietary Restrictions Can Teach You About Happiness

Erin Zelinka
Jun 1 · 4 min read

Identify the craving; find the substitution.

I have tried dozens of different diets in my 34 years of life. Some were effective. Many were absurd.

Only SlimFast for twelve days. Twelve pounds down, insanely constipated. (Who knew we needed nutrients?)

Starvation. Only black coffee and tea allowed. Again, twelve pounds down in twelve days. All of it back on me within a few weeks.

The Cabbage Soup Diet. You can have all the cabbage soup you want! Oh boy. And then some odd select things on certain days like heaps of tomatoes or bananas.

The Three-Day Tuna Diet. This involves tuna, of course, but also vanilla icecream and saltines?

Just as we find ourselves craving certain foods, sometimes we find ourselves craving a certain lifestyle.

You get the idea. Ridiculous. And yet, with all of my efforts, I tend to hover at around 20 pounds more than I’d ideally like to be. So, when a friend recommended Whole30, a healthy but restrictive eating plan, I was on board. I had never stuck to any plan for 30 days, so this seemed like a challenge I should take on, considering I still had 30 pounds of baby weight to lose and my daughter was turning one soon.

And guys, I did it! I actually stuck to the plan for 30 days, which involved NO grains, NO dairy, NO refined sugars. I lost 16 pounds in 30 days, and I felt incredible.

The main reason for my success was the thriving online community that offered suggestions on substitutions for the restricted foods.

The main reason for my success was the thriving online community that offered suggestions on substitutions for the restricted foods. I couldn’t have soy sauce, but I could have coconut aminos, which taste even better to me. I couldn’t have cream in my coffee, but I could have unsweetened coconut milk.

I could go on, but this article isn’t really about the diet, which you can learn more about on the Whole30 website. This is about how I learned to become a more content human by identifying my cravings — not just in food, but in ALL areas of life — and then finding satisfying, healthy substitutes.

Just as we find ourselves craving certain foods, sometimes we find ourselves craving a certain lifestyle. A stay-at-home mom, though totally happy, may sometimes feel the allure of her fast-paced career again, or she may fantasize about the carefree days of grabbing a backpack and hopping on a plane. (Okay, this stay-at-home mom is me.)

Through my Whole30 experience of satisfying food cravings with substitutes, I learned that I could satisfy my lifestyle cravings with substitutes, too!

For example, I felt a tug of envy one evening as I watched the Sex & the City series, watching them flit around from club to club, wearing glorious high heels I hadn’t put on in ages, brunching and discussing dating dramas.

Step 1. Identify the craving.

What did I actually want that the Sex & the City sirens represented to me?

Did I want to re-enter the dating world again, full of weirdos and awkwardness? Heck no. I feel so content and secure with my fiancé. My search is over, and I’m glad.

Did I want to go out to exclusive clubs with sexy blue lighting? Nah, that wasn’t it either. I do enjoy dancing, but I get out to do that every couple of weeks and that’s enough.

Did I need more girlfriends and great conversations? Nope. I have a couple of dear ones whom I connect with weekly.

Did I want to feel the confidence of strutting down the street in heels, all put together, shoulders back, full of ambition? BINGO. That’s the area where I felt the pull. THAT is what I needed in my life, these days spent mostly in jeans or sweat pants.

Step 2. Find the substitution.

Now that I knew what I needed, I could find the substitution that would satisfy the craving. I didn’t need to move to NYC and live the Sex & the City lifestyle. All I really needed was to do my hair, put on a pair of heels, and strut into the local cafe where I like to write and pursue my personal ambitions.

You CAN have it all if you can find the satisfying substitutes that fit the beautiful life you have.

Sometimes, it may feel like the particular life we have prohibits us from having it all. If you’re settled with house, spouse and kids, it may seem that you can’t be a jetsetter or a free spirit, too. But the truth is, you CAN have it all if you can find the satisfying substitutes that fit the beautiful life you have.

Just as you can have coconut aminos instead of soy sauce, you can have a free-spirited day adventure instead of packing your bags and moving to Thailand. You can procure a remote contract job rather than going back to the office full-time. You can take a weekend trip to the big city. You can put on high heels and go to the cafe.

Erin Zelinka

Written by

Author of A Loss for Words & The Best Reef, a memoir. Words in @OutpostMagazine, The Startup, Noteworthy, @RVMessenger, @Medium. PR Specialist, too.

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