I’m Finally Eating Gluten Again

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

In my search for attaining the “perfect” body, I fell victim to some marketing ploys. I thought I was a critical consumer, but marketers are geniuses.

Ideal beauty standards are created to sell products and services. Beauty standards are largely unattainable on purpose. Why? So that you buy these products or services to try to fit into the ideal standards. The keyword is try, cause it’s unlikely that even after you make the purchases that you will fit into the standards. So you keep consuming, your life spent hating yourself and envying others.

I told myself I wanted to be healthy, but really I wanted to lose weight. My self-worth tied to the belief that others would like me more if I looked a certain way. I still feel that way at times. Thus began my obsession with “clean eating.” As an undergrad in college, one of the first things I cut out of my diet was gluten. Then dairy. Certain foods like dense carbs — rice and potatoes. No eggs. No meat. Instead, I started eating gluten-free products and whole foods.

There was some weight loss with these changes, so I felt it justified my choices. I had done lots of online research, and there are plenty of studies, articles, and documentaries — What the Health on Netflixthat discuss how these foods can harm your health. I thought I was smart.

Yet, a critical consumer knows that even scientific studies have biases if the people funding the studies have a stake in the outcomes. Check out this article explaining how meat and dairy industries fund studies for their own benefit.

For example, I recently read an article touting the benefits of dairy to one’s health only to discover pharmaceutical companies and proponents of the dairy industry funded the study. Refer to highlighted funders in the image below.

Funders listed for the dairy consumption study linked above.

One has to ask why pharmaceutical companies and Dairy Farmers want to fund a study that finds how dairy leads to greater health outcomes. Well, critical thinking tells us the dairy industry might want scientists to “prove” that dairy is healthy so they’ll sell more products. Perhaps pharmaceutical companies back this study because they know dairy actually does lead to poor health outcomes. If people eat more dairy due to this study but get sick, then the people will have to rely on medicines created by the pharmaceutical companies. Thus, the pharmacy companies benefit from funding this study as well.

It’s hard to know who to believe, which makes things all the more confusing.

I recently learned that this obsession with “eating clean” is considered an eating disorder called orthorexia. All-day, my mind would be consumed by thoughts of food. Thinking about what I should eat, whether I was making the healthiest choice. Restricting my choices throughout the day, followed by binging on “healthy” junk food at night due to feeling unsatiated and unhappy. Then hating myself for eating the foods deemed unhealthy. This cycle would repeat daily, with me never feeling good about my choices.

My obsession even created conflict in my relationships. Going out to eat was complicated by all my food restrictions. Understandably, people felt frustrated with me at times because I constantly wanted to be accommodated. If I was flexible with where we went out, I felt wholly unsettled and could no longer fully enjoy the present moment. Worried that the food would cause me to gain weight or break my skin out.

I am not recovered from this eating disorder, but gaining an awareness of it opened my eyes to the restrictive lifestyle I have been living.

You can still gain weight or be unhealthy by eating only “clean” foods. Hello binging on nuts and dates or eating a bag of gluten-free, vegan chips. The problem isn’t necessarily the food — although I still find certain studies more convincing when it comes to long term effects on health from consuming animal products. The bigger issue is my behaviors around food. Food is often something I rely on as a distraction from my uncomfortable and stressful reality. Eating yummy food is my form of escapism.

The basic science of calories consumed versus calories burned does hold true around weight management. So, if I am over-consuming calories needed for my body to function properly and am not physically active, the consequences of that are weight gain. Addressing my unhelpful emotional regulation habits led to more significant long-term changes as opposed to living an extremely restricted lifestyle.

While it makes sense to minimize highly processed foods that don’t offer many nutritional benefits, it isn’t helpful to constantly stress about eating a certain way 100% of the time. Nor is it healthy to feel guilty if I indulge in foods that don’t fall under the “clean,” whole-foods category. You can’t enjoy life that way. Thus, I’ve reintroduced gluten into my life. And rice. And potatoes. I love potatoes!

I’m learning to become an intuitive eater. I cook a lot, eat things I crave in moderation, and make sure to get daily physical activity. I am finding balance. While I know my journey with disordered eating is not over, the progress I’ve made around my beliefs and my habits feels like a step in the right direction — one with much less anxiety and self-loathing.

To prevent ourselves from falling into a spiral of depression and potentially getting an eating disorder, we have to be critical of any media we consume. Through many of the ads or shows we watch, we are often sent the message that there is something wrong with the way we look. This can lead to a lot of self-harm in the form of toxic thoughts we have about ourselves and the development of unhelpful habits — like obsessing over the food we eat. We then look to some product or way of life as our savior — like buying books on the paleo diet and purchasing gluten-free items.

While I won’t condemn following any particular diet, what I’ve found works best is balance. Eating a variety of foods that bring me joy and offer nutrients. Moving my body daily, it doesn’t have to be super intense exercise. Lastly, being intentional to show gratitude towards my body. Gratitude teaches me to appreciate the body I have now, as opposed to longing for something to be different.

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