As I have looked for insights into how a person with Parkinson’s or any illness should eat, I found the article Eating “Healthy” Destroyed Me VERY insightful. In the article by Ema Hegberg (found at Medium… link to article is at the end of this post.) Ema said: “I was doing everything right but it felt so wrong“
“It was a gloriously golden, warm September afternoon and I was crumpled up in the fetal position on my bedroom floor, ugly crying. I had nothing left in me. I was a twenty three years old, newly married, employed, financially alright, plant-based vegetarian, and for the six hundredth day in a row, I felt horrible.
I was supposed to be packing for a leisurely weekend camping trip but I could not muster up a shred of mental, physical or emotional energy to pack or prepare. In frantic texts to my new husband, I described myself as “drained,” “zapped,” “dried up.”
Somewhere in my exhausted tears there was frustration. This should not be happening to me. I had been a vegetarian for a decade; for the past five years, I had been eating a “clean,” plant-based diet. I took a B complex, I didn’t have anemia, I drank vegan protein shakes almost daily even though they made me cringe, I drank enough water, I slept well. I should be ok. Yet here I was, crying at 2pm because I felt like zombie.
And then a strange thing happened. I had not had animal protein in ten years and I hadn’t craved it in nearly as long, but suddenly my body instinctively called out for meat.
A few days later, I ate chicken. A week or so later, I had sausage. I was a carnivore again. Slowly, I regained strength.
When I gave myself permission to eat meat again, I started to look at all the many other foods I had demonized and just how sick I had become.
Meat had been the first thing I nixed.
After that, I whittled down the list of “safe” foods more and more.
I would allow no processed foods; everything had to be in a form that my great-grandmother would recognize. I had read that on a wellness blog somewhere;…………….
I wouldn’t eat granulated sugar, because sugar “lights up” your brain the same way cocaine does. (As it turns out, so does sex and laughter.) All sugar had to be “natural:” honey, maple, coconut.
I severely limited my dairy…………………………………..
Gluten was of course suspect. It seemed to be like the tobacco of our time; everyone was doing it but silently it was killing us…………
Eggs were questionable. ………………
I’d never picked up a coffee habit, which was good because coffee could shorten your life. Green tea was better. No sugar, no milk.
Vegetable oils were just downright bad. ………………………….. So I only ate olive oil uncooked. But that was ok because I had coconut oil, a gift from the gods.
What did this leave? What was “safe?” Fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, coconut products, olive oil, oatmeal, buckwheat, lentils, quinoa, yoghurt, honey, maple syrup.
I can come up with that list very easily because that is pretty much all I ate for four years. Seldom did I “cheat.” It wasn’t worth it and I knew it. Eat one of the forbidden foods and I would kick myself for hours or days afterward. Psychosomatically, I would feel uglier and fatter after slipping up and eating something made with canola oil, or a small piece of dark chocolate with refined sugar.
This is what I ate everyday for four years:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal or “overnight oats” with smidgen of coconut milk and smidgen of honey (maybe), topped with walnuts and a banana.
- Snack One: Apple or banana.
- Lunch: A very large salad of organic spring mix with beans or sprouts, dressed with olive oil only.
- Snack Two: Fruit, raw fruit and nut bar, a spoonful of nut butter, or a homemade smoothie.
- Dinner: Another salad the same as the first, or perhaps quinoa with lots of cooked vegetables.
- “Dessert”: Another large bowl of oatmeal, nearly identical to the first. Perhaps refined sugar-free banana bread slathered with coconut oil.
And every day, after eating like this, I felt so righteous. I did yoga almost every night. Each day, I walked all over my college campus with a twenty pound backpack. I got eight hours of sleep. Frequently, people commented on my weight and how delightfully “skinny” I was (five foot seven, 125 pounds). I was doing everything right; I was being so very good.
About three years into being stringently a “clean” plant-based eater, I started to have severe chest and stomach pain.
It felt like the food I was eating would get stuck in my esophagus. ………………………………….. I stumbled onto some research about b12 deficiency in vegetarians — something no doctor had warned me about — so I started taking b12. The pains abated.
Then my energy levels plummeted.
…………….. I tried a naturopath, who if nothing else recommend an elimination diet to figure out what food sensitivities I had (because I must have at least one). …………………………..
What I now know:
Daily, for at least four years, I had a deficit of several hundred calories. This did not cause me to lose any weight because my body had gone into starvation mode. Functionally, I had no muscle. The only micro-nutrient I got all of my daily value of was fiber; everything else I lacked, but specifically I wasn’t getting enough protein. I got maybe a tenth of the protein I needed, and it was never a complete amino acid profile. My total cholesterol was, at its lowest, 113mg/dL. There is research to show that cholesterol as low as mine increases risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, cancer and heart problems.
Other curious things from this time: ……………………………….. All of these things have resolved since my eating got broader.
I was devoted to several. Their promises of health equated to enlightenment in my eyes, because I’d never felt fully well. (In retrospect, I’d been severely anxious since age five and had very low self esteem.) The bloggers —almost entirely white females — were beautiful, glowing, thin, confident and they accomplished great things. They published books, the jetted off to Bali and Spain, the wore amazing clothes and did yoga in the sunshine. I was a sad, quivering American teenager who was homeschooled and friendless. Wellness blogs played upon every insecurity I had.
I’d found myself in this place, in no small part, because of wellness bloggers.
…………….. I believe I had an eating disorder, just not the kind everyone talks about. Mine was called orthorexia, meaning I was eating “too well.”……….
Although I’ve nearly always had anxiety, my depression, I believe, was largely sparked by my “healthy” diet. While people praised how saintly an eater I was, my body was begging for more nutrients. ……….. When I started to eat meat again, my depression began to fade.
I remember every detail of the first time I ate a processed food again; I had Late July brand tortilla chips. A very kind new boyfriend (now husband) accepted my issues with food and patiently walked me through the stages of my guilt. The same day we had dried organic pineapple rings that were lightly sweetened with granulated sugar. It was a big day for me.
Reconditioning myself to be ok with the foods I’d categorized as “bad” has taken time and there are moments when my twisted perceptions of eating creep back in. Now I eat just about whatever I please. My diet is still composed of mostly fruit and vegetables, and I am the most clear headed I can recall being. For the first time, I have muscle and I can tan.
What the wellness bloggers portray is no longer what I’m after. Yes, they look lovely but I’ve no way of telling if they actually feel present and strong. That’s what I want now, and the only way I can get there is if I care for my body in a way that it understands. Deprivation is not its love language. It needs bounty; it needs grace.