I’ve heard that when people go to some of the trendiest restaurants in LA, the first thing the server asks them is “what are the restrictions on the table tonight?” or “what exclusions do we have this evening?”.
This highlights the tacit understanding from our food suppliers that so many people these days are eliminating at least one food from their diet: sometimes a specific protein (e.g. gluten, dairy), sometimes a whole food group (grains), sometimes an entire macronutrient (carbs).
And of course, when anything becomes a ‘trend’, we have the backlash from the (usually scientific) cohort which slams the fad, insisting that otherwise perfectly healthy people are doing themselves ‘harm’ by needlessly limiting their diets.
Where to even begin?
FOR THE RECORD: no you are not going to be missing out on vital micronutrients if you don’t eat wheat, as long as you get the B vitamins etc. elsewhere, which is just basic dietary understanding – so for all nutritionists saying there’s vital stuff in bread that you’d do well to eat… jog on…
And no, you are not going to be creating allergies for your children if you don’t expose them to gluten in early life. There are controversial studies suggesting that this may be the case, but these are not quality controlled for the variables of breast feeding – one of the primary immune programming activities.
And lastly, if you are perfectly fine digesting gluten… and dairy… and sugar… and carbs… GO RIGHT AHEAD.
Why do we all seek so quickly to lambast people for their choices when it comes to nutrition? Believe it or not, I have deeply struggled with this in my personal life – feeling like I was simply being ‘faddy’ for expressing my needs.
I have felt like I’m not allowed to say “I don’t eat ‘x’…” because by doing so I put myself in the camp of those who are a little bit disordered when it comes to food…
The reason that I’m not allowed to say that is because I don’t have diagnosed coeliac disease. So my avoidance is a fad, right?
To be clear, I have the perhaps-not-real-but-feels-very-real-to-me “Non-Coeliac-Gluten-Sensitivity”… by which I mean I have the genes which link to a sensitivity to gluten that seems to be more neurological and joint-pain related rather than causing direct autoimmune attacks in my intestines. To be really clear, I can’t (and won’t) ever know whether I have coeliac disease because I gave up gluten long before it was postulated that I should test (for more on this, read my recent article linked here on immunity and scroll to the heading “Coeliac Testing”.
To be fully open, I also have histamine intolerance linked to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Pyroluria, a connective tissue disorder and a whole heap of sensitivity to chemicals and toxins, especially mould. I’ve just got a lot of the genes that make me susceptible to this stuff, and a lot of the life triggers which set all of this off inside me. If anyone should feel comfortable saying “I don’t eat that, because it makes me feel awful” – it should be me, right?
And yet, food behaviours are complex and food specificity and restriction is such a taboo topic that I have frequently felt like a complete freak for having needs in this area.
And to be honest, it’s actually not helpful psychologically to recommend to my clients a whole host of stuff they have to ‘avoid’. Because healing, at least as far as I’m concerned, is partly about what you remove and eliminate from your life – but also about the things you include.
So, instead of looking at elimination diets for once, I wanted to express something that is fundamental to my own life… what is IN my life, rather than what is left out. It’s a much smaller list, but sometimes it’s easier to focus on what makes us feel good, rather than the things we don’t choose to have in our lives.
Life isn’t about what you don’t eat – it’s about what you do. Every cell in your body has to be produced from the fuel you give yourself. Energy doesn’t come from thin air, and the life you build is built upon the foundations of the ingredients you include in your life.
For me, this means including both nutrient variety AND nutrient density. Not every food that comes into my body has to be holier than thou – but it does have to fulfil a purpose. That purpose can be purely for pleasure, mind you, but it has to be pleasure WITHOUT pain attached.
The reason I say variety AND density is because some foods aren’t particularly dense in nutrients (i.e. the per calorie nutritional profile isn’t sky high) but they are nutrient rich (i.e. the variety and/or breadth of ‘stuff’ you get from them can be immense. By this, read ‘vegetables’.
There are undoubtedly vegetables I don’t choose to eat, but there are heaps of them that I do. And I don’t need to be fancy – boiled works. Or roasted. Topped with some oil is great. And I am someone who loves textures – so hot vegetables on cold salad leaves actually makes me happy.
As for nutrient dense foods – we’re talking organ meats, bone broth, oily fish, muscle meat AND slow-cooked, fattier cuts of food.
That’s all I’m actually going to write about as far as food is concerned If you want to understand what to eat rather than what to avoid, then I heartily recommend the work of Sarah Ballantyne who not only explains the beauty and benefits of such foods, but also the science behind the amino acids of the proteins, the different balances within muscle meats vs. organ meats etc. and the nutrient profiles of vegetables…
I’m not going to re-write her book out on my blog, but it’s literally the bible for nourishing a sensitive body… And that’s the whole point.
If you have any degree of sensitivity and care about the building blocks of the infrastructure of your cells, it’s absolutely NOT about writing lists of things your body ‘can’t handle’. It’s about deciding the wonderful nutrients and nourishment that your body craves…
But there are other things that I ‘include’ in my life, because they make an enormous difference to my ability to thrive.
I have still some way to go before I get my exercise regimen in the right place for all of the situations that I manage on a daily basis. And yet there is one overriding truth for me that I have come to accept…
Everything feels better when you can walk away from it.
I strongly believe that movement – and by ‘exercise’, I simply mean moving your body in some way – is actually a way of processing and dealing with everything in life. Some of my worst problems have been remedied on a walk. Some of my most traumatic feelings about my body have been blasted through during an intense workout.
So when things are overwhelming, even if that is through food reactivity and pain, shifting the body can shift the energy of the whole experience.
I have found that so much negativity exists when our beings are in stagnation. Sometimes, sitting inside the emotion is useful. But after sitting and pondering or reflecting… move…
The ‘right’ movement is so individual, and as I said, I’m still working on this for myself. But in truth I know that I would have lost my sanity and probably my life if I didn’t have some form of movement practice which helps me to metabolise the experiences that I live through.
My ill health coincided with me surrendering my music for a time. By ‘a time’, I mean over a decade. I barely listened to music in this period, let alone played (even though I’m trained to Grade 8 level on three different instruments).
I know that music, for me, is another form of movement of energy. It provides the catalyst for us to feel emotions, release tensions, remember moments and feelings and touch the rhythm that is inside ourselves. Even if you’re tone deaf you can hear the sounds and feel the vibrations of the music.
And now, research about music and health is everywhere (great overview of the science linked here). We are beings of frequency and vibration and so the tones and music that we listen to can directly alter our state.
For me, I don’t listen to binaural beats or perfectly toned instruments at a certain hertz frequency. Instead, I pay for a Premium Spotify subscription and make liberal use of the “Skip” function… I just stay with the tracks that make sense to my ears at the time. No science required… just what feels good…
And talking of ‘feeling good’ – music isn’t always about listening. For me, taking part is a major part of what makes me sane – so singing (linked to so many health benefits and amazing, positive influences on vagal nerve tone, nervous system and brain health) is now firmly back in my life, and I notice the difference. It works like exercise for me, flexing a different muscle, but shifting anything that feels stuck and allowing me to process any ‘stuff’ that is happening.
As with food, the list of people that I include in my life is more about quality than about quantity. My ‘safe people’ list is even smaller than that of my diet, but only because I love to be around high quality, nourishing humans even more than I require high quality, nourishing foods.
I am lucky in that I have moved house, and geographical area, a lot and I have been through a lot of traumatic ‘stuff’ which really sorts the wheat from the chaff of those whom you are friends with. If you want to prune your friendship lists, just get really, really sick and see who sticks around.
I say this pairing back of my friendship tree is lucky because as a result my friend circle is incredibly small and built mostly of people who love me and see things in me that I can’t even begin to imagine are inside myself. I have been blessed to know people who believed in me long before I even could understand there was someone to believe in. Whilst I haven’t held on to connections with all of them, I do know that their presence in my life was always formative and shaped my own being.
By selecting the people to include in my life, I don’t necessarily mean that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. What I mean is that those around us have the power to reinforce our idea of ourselves and make us stronger, but they also have the power to slant the way we feel about our needs.
Like with the music, this isn’t about selecting on any other basis other than those people who make you feel good about yourself. They can challenge you, lift you up to being the best ‘you’ that you can be. But they always need to be people who you feel supported and nourished by, rather than who leave you drained, bitter, angry or overwhelmed. As with the Music, the humans that you tune into at each moment can be different, but they should always be the people who make you feel safe and supported at each moment.
What Feels Good?
The truth is that everything I include in my life is less about what the science says and more about what makes me Feel Good…
But there is a science-backed reason for this.
Feeling good, however that happens, releases the right chemicals in my brain, hormones through my body and energy through my nervous system to quieten everything that is reactive inside me. If I make a choice to include everything that nourishes my soul, I can guarantee that I am nourishing my body at the same time.
This isn’t about turning my reactive immune system off by avoiding inflammatory foods. It’s not about the long, long list of things which cause a ‘flare’ of my immune response.
Instead, it’s about giving my reactive immune system all sorts of signals that life is OK, that the way I interact with the world is totally safe, and that the things I include in my life feel good.
And this also allows the miraculous to happen, because in choosing high quality nourishing practices I actually broaden the scope of what I can tolerate – digestively, chemically and emotionally – because I am sending the messages of ‘feel good’ to my immune system too. That is often all the signalling needed for my sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response) to calm down and trust me and my life.
This is a mindset shift and a practice which has made an enormous difference in my life and the lives of my clients. Rather than a litany of ‘can’ts’, life becomes a manifesto of ‘feels nice’. And rather than food lists and rules it becomes all about ‘feeling’ and being in touch with your body.
This subtle hack puts you closer to sensing how you really feel internally, and when you fill your body with ‘feels nice’ you give your reactivity every possible chance in the world to change, to calm down and to reset.
Yes, this is perhaps a very simplistic account of life when sensitive – and for all those screaming at their computer screens that it’s not this easy and/or you don’t know what ‘feels nice’ should feel like and you’re struggling so much that you can’t do this… I really do hear you.
This isn’t an overnight awareness, and it isn’t about getting it right all the time.
Instead this is about a mindset shift which has the power to transform the attitude with which you approach your life – from restriction to fuelling health. And it is these subtle shifts which, I have come to learn, directly influence how far you are able to go in your healing journey.
We can all follow a food list. But how you feel about how you construct your diet will change the way your body receives and responds to that nutrition. Removing the ‘can’ts’ and the victim mentality is a fundamental part of my work because I deal with those who (like myself) have real, genetic and unchangeable realities which mean that so-called ‘restrictive diets’ are a necessary way of life
In order to become OK with your restrictiveness, it’s sometimes about taking the word ‘restrictions’ OFF the table.
For a growing number of people, dietary restrictions are a choice or necessity based in health (and not on some form of fad belief or eating disorder). For these people (myself included) making these decisions should be about empowering health rather than being ‘fussy’ or ‘restricted’ or ‘missing out’.
So perhaps those restaurant waiters, rather than being chastised by the haters for asking about everyone’s lists of ‘can’ts’, would make us all happier, and empower our health more, if they approached tables and instead asked,
“What can I bring to your table (and your lives) that would help you to feel amazing today?”