Food/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Learning to enjoy food when you have a dietary restriction

Having to relearn how to eat is a huge undertaking and can be a daunting task. The initial jolt of an allergy diagnosis tends to give way to a variety of mixed emotions. Slowly but surely, the steep learning curve in navigating day-to-day life begins. Reading grocery labels, searching for recipes and looking for staple alternatives become central to your relationship with food.

After almost a lifetime of dealing with severe food allergies, multiple autoimmune disorders, and vitamin/mineral deficiencies, I have learned to use my knowledge and implement it in an effective way. It is helpful to be conscious of the importance of micronutrients and understand how you can incorporate them into your diet – something that, over time, becomes natural, simply a part of your cooking mentality. My most recent diagnosis is insulin resistance, an imbalance that occurred because of the constant source of inflammation from my allergies. Sugar, the highly-addictive glucose molecule—a ray of sunshine and only exception in my paleo-based diet—was the toughest to give up.

A diagnosis or change in mindset leading up to a diet change is just the beginning. It’s all a matter of giving yourself and your body time to adjust. Here are my tips for coming to terms with a dietary restriction, refining your palate and re-discovering a joy for food, even when you the task of restriction seems intimidating:

 

Knowledge is power

One of the best ways to drum up enthusiasm for food is to become an expert on it. Learn to appreciate the nuances of foods that you can eat, rather than focusing on what you are ‘missing out on’. The more you become informed about the roles of Omega-3, fibre, enzymes, protein, carbohydrates, and iron, the more you will be able to seek and strike a balanced diet.

 

Mindset is everything

Avoid the overbearing thought of restriction and try to look for a silver lining. Nutrition is all about feeling empowered about what you are putting in your body; it is about nourishment, creating a relationship with your plate that makes you happy. Eating clean and avoiding foods you are allergic to does not mean giving up on your favourite foods. You may have to re-adjust and find suitable swaps, but you can still eat stunning, simple meals. As with anything else focus on progress, not perfection. If you are worrying about what you need to take out of your diet, stop and take a moment to reconsider and focus on what you can add in.

 

Good food, happy brain

Trigger serotonin production in the brain by eating protein (a source of tryptophan), complex carbohydrates (sustained release of serotonin) and avoid excessive caffeine (may inhibit food-derived serotonin). Focus on keeping your brain fuelled and happy with sustainable food-derived serotonin sources. A simple smoothie, topped with superfoods of your choice, is an easy way of packing in all sorts of nutrients and protein into your diet.

 

Plan ahead

Do not underestimate the importance of keeping your cupboard stocked with healthy, allergy-friendly ingredients and snacks. For me, this mainly includes superfoods, nuts and fresh fruit. As for snacks, there is a range of allergy-friendly, clean options available, but the most rewarding (and the option over which you have most control) is making your own. Let the seasons dictate your fruit and vegetable consumption: this is a great way to ensure you are benefitting from a range of micronutrients into your diet.

 

Research, learn and explore some more!

Nothing quite beats the feeling of a quiet afternoon spent reading about health and nutrition. Not only is informing yourself always beneficial, but investigating the famous ‘you are what you eat’ phenomenon can instill a sense of confidence in your ‘battle’ with dietary restriction. I have gained a sense of determination, a lot of motivation and an undying love for whole foods from doing my research, understanding my conditions, and finding creative ways to substitute unique ingredients. For some general cooking tips, take a look at The Boar Lifestyle‘s recent article here. Explore Pinterest for interesting recipes, online guides, and instructions for optimal food combining. Perusing through @minimalistbaker’s Instagram feed is guaranteed to get you inspired. And drooling.

 

You are what you eat, after all. Our cells are constantly regenerating, and the nutrients you consume provide the foundation of your cell’s structure and integrity.

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