Food For Thought

We all have a relationship with food. For some of us our relationship with food is a positive one. In this respect, we might see food as something that is a source of comfort, it can also be viewed as a way to connect socially, it may bring us joy and happiness and for others it is a sensory experience. On the flip side, some people have a negative view of food. Some do not enjoy food to the degree that a “foodie” would, others over eat, under eat or have another form of disorder because food has always been viewed as a coping mechanism or it was something one uses as a sense of control. For me, food is one of pleasure, comfort, sensory experience and sustenance.

You would think that being in the fitness profession, my eating habits would be pristine. I often think of the stereotypes that fitness people are associated with when it comes to food; we consume salad, eggs, chicken, turkey, fish and brown rice. When I begin to talk to people in my classes or that know me in general, one of the first things they say to me as it relates to diet is “Oh, you must be such a clean eater”. While I want my response to be of course I am, so as to not tarnish the public perception of fitness professionals, the truth of the matter is my diet has always been far from clean.

When I was in high school and college, I was a multi-sport athlete. The sport to which I call my “bread and butter”(no pun intended here) was wrestling. If you know anything about the sport, it is extremely physically demanding but it also revolves around making weight and weight loss. Most specifically the goal for a majority of wrestlers is to try and compete in the lowest weight class possible. Throughout my entire wrestling career, making weight was NEVER my forte. I loved food, and by loving food we are not talking about healthy food. As a matter of fact, most of my adolescence and late teenage years I lived on pizza, chicken parmesan and Chinese food. Wait, that is not entirely true, my poor dietary habits continued into my adult life too.

Growing up, my mom was not what one would call “Julia Child.” While she tried and was well intended, her culinary abilities or understanding of healthy eating was not her strength. I grew up on diet soda, sugary goodies, pasta, carbs, gluten, dairy, etc. I knew no better. I was scared to eat sushi in my early twenties because we never had it growing up. I was used to my steak being charred well-done on a charcoal bbq. Needless to say when I went to culinary school, my eyes, mouth and stomach were opened to new adventures.

So what does this all mean, aside from loving food. Even with my culinary education, for the past countless years I have lived off of fried and processed foods, Starbucks breakfast sandwiches (the sausage one was my go to), gluten, dairy, nightshade vegetables and very little greens or low glycemic fruit. It was not until April of this year when my eyes were truly open to how food might play a role in my health. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew it was important to eat “healthy” but what did that look like for me. I was always mentally willing to try some new way of eating healthy, especially when Arielle wanted to do the Whole 30 or Paleo. The problem was my willpower. It was never as strong as hers. Maybe I just loved all the “good” stuff too much. Maybe I was emotionally weak that I was not fully willing to commit. Maybe I did not see it as truly important.

Well, it’s funny how your health can affect even the things you love so dear, like food and the mental approach you have to such habits such as eating. Hit with the news of my newly diagnosed autoimmune condition, Scleroderma, I began researching anything and everything I could to see what I could do to slow the disease, or better yet put it into remission. A lot of what I found was related to food. I started reading about leaky gut and the effect certain foods like gluten, dairy and nightshade vegetables have on the body. I watched documentaries like What The Health, a plant based diet theory that was definitely a bit biased. I read books by some of the foremost experts when it comes to Functional Medicine (i.e. Dr. Amy Meyers). The result: I was amazed and shocked to see that a lot of what we put into our bodies is not only bad for us when it comes to weight gain or loss, athletic performance, but most of all it can seriously have a negative impact on our immune system.

Certain foods can actually cause autoimmunity or at least exacerbate conditions and cause inflammation throughout the body! Willing to do anything and everything I could to fight my disease and get to the root problem of my autoimmunity, I turned to a functional medicine professional. This might not be for everyone because some people prefer traditional medicine and, it is also very expensive. The latter was my biggest concern. After talking it over with Arielle, we decided it needed to be done.

Upon the second visit to my functional doctors’ office, my entire relationship with food was about to change. First, I was given a three-week protocol that included supplements and shakes to help cleanse my liver and process the garbage out. Then attached to my reading packet which was well, as a list of food I could consume, but most of all it was a very restrictive diet.

DinnerThe diet I was about to embark upon was somewhat of a cross between Plant-Based and Paleo. One might think that does not seem that bad, but wait it gets better. So what was I able to eat – chicken, turkey, fish, lamb, spinach, brussels, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, cauliflower, broccoli and the like. Sounds ok so far, I guess. I start to read the list of what I do not get to put into my mouth – beans, all grains like rice, quinoa, couscous, etc., red meat, corn, eggs, tomatoes, eggplant, coffee, sugars, soy, mushrooms, nightshades, dairy, gluten, wheat, nuts including nut butters like peanut butter and bye-bye to my favorite no wine.

CookWhat was I going to do? Cook everything? Yes indeed. And so meal prep began every Sunday for about 3-5 hours for Arielle and me. Hard was not even the word to describe the process. I was hungry, cranky, I found myself snapping at people for no reason. I became “THAT” guest in a restaurant modifying my entire meal beyond recognition. The very type of person that to me as a manager and all my staff in the restaurants I used to run, was a person we would make fun of and complain about. And, here I was apologizing to any waiter taking my order, feeling hyper embarrassed. I had to make sure I was timing my shakes and supplement regimen diligently before my meals. I took extra special care to ensure I packed food appropriately so that I would stay as satiated as I could during the day. I complained to Arielle day after day that I wanted rice or eggs for breakfast –since now I was having Aidell’s Chicken and Apple Sausage by itself every morning.

I found my willpower, mental fortitude and stomach tested for 21 days. Some days were better than others. So what happened, believe it or not I began to feel a bit better. My energy in the morning was substantially greater than it had previously been. My hands which for the past 3 years have been tight to the point I cannot make a complete fist due to the Scleroderma started to feel less inflamed and began to flex better. I lost about 10 pounds (this makes Arielle a bit angry at me, so please do not tell her). Without too much information, my bowel movements were better and most of all I felt like I was taking control. When I start to think about the root cause of my autoimmunity, I think about the “burning of the candle at both ends” schedule I have always kept, the stress in my life and now my diet. I get angry at myself for not listening to my wife when she wanted me to improve my eating habits or just doing what I knew was right when it came to nutrition. I get disappointed with myself for not using my culinary education to nourish my body better. I find myself frustrated that I ALONE, caused harm to my body. But with all of that self-hatred comes self-love. With all the mistakes of the past, comes the chance to make improvements. To love my body and remembering it truly is a temple and that it needs the right fuel in order to function properly. I have inspired myself through this 21-day journey to heal myself from the inside out. To treat my gut the way I would my face when I wash and moisturize it. When I cut myself and put healing ointment and a band-aid on it because I want it to get better Now I must heal my gut in order to heal the rest of my body that is attacked and wreaked havoc on itself.

So what is next you might ask now that my 3-week cleanse is complete? I have just had a food sensitivity test and cross reactivity blood test done in order to see exactly what foods my body has antibodies to so that I can eliminate them forever. I will update you on that once the results come back in about 10 days. In the meantime, evaluate your own relationship with food. See what you eat and why you eat it. Try for 3 weeks to just take 2 things we all know might be harmful out of your diet like gluten and diary. Let me know what happens. Just eliminating those two things a lot might make you feel like a million bucks.