When faced with the idea of eliminating a particular food or category of food from their diets, folks often voice concern about traveling, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. Can these occasions still be as special and pleasurable, while they are supporting their health concerns? To that I say, I believe they can be even more enjoyable.
Recently, some photos popped up of my children at Legoland in Florida. When I realized these scenes were unfamiliar to me, I asked, “Where was I?” Then, I remembered. I was in the ER with a migraine headache that had resisted all efforts to be dulled. Sadly, even the four hours I spent in the ER having a CAT scan, along with receiving IV fluids and pain relievers didn’t relieve my headache. That headache lasted the rest of our vacation and beyond, two solid weeks. It was a special trip, sharing time at theme parks with my kids and my in-laws. But I experienced it all through a fog of pain, doing my best to put on a smile and share their joy. The entire drive home, I laid in the passenger seat, face blocked from light, fighting the nausea that accompanied my migraines. I missed out and my family missed out on me.
Thank God, that was my last headache and it was over 7 years ago, but it still brings tears to my eyes to recall. It’s overwhelming for me to think of how the way I used to eat robbed me and the people around me of joy. Along with migraine headaches, I suffered depression and anxiety for two decades. My mom used to ask why I was in the bathroom every time it was time to do dishes. I was sick to my stomach after every meal, but I accepted it as just how my body worked. I won’t tell you my whole story, as it’s available in another post, but the point is that I did not know that there was hope to feel better and I certainly didn’t think it was something that could be changed by food.
Recently, I took a trip to New Orleans. Since the diet (meaning: way of eating) that is right for me is 100% gluten-free and I find it beneficial to avoid corn, most dairy, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and some spices), and heavily processed foods, I did some homework in preparation for my trip. Since gluten exposure is what would most impact how I feel, it’s non-negotiable. The other things I discern on a case by case basis. I utilized the Find Me Gluten Free App to locate restaurants with gluten-free options and I was able to find a list of recommended paleo-friendly restaurants on a website called NOLA Paleo. It was only after I returned that I realized that the absolute best meals that we had were a direct result of seeking foods that work best for me. We were able to eat delicious food and I was able to circumvent reactions that would have impacted the overall enjoyment of our trip. I was energetic and fully present, a far cry from my experience 7 years ago.
What if looking for alternatives can lead you to even more pleasurable experiences than you would have by setting aside your healthier-for-you way of eating? What if you actually get the opportunity to experience joy in missing out? What if you could miss out on digestive symptoms, pain, lagging energy, mood changes, skin breakouts, and sleep disturbances while eating truly pleasurable, right-for-you food?
Here are some practical tips for helping you experience the pleasure of missing out:
1. Get to know yourself
I find food/mood journals far more helpful than allergy or food-sensitivity testing, at first, because it connects you to your body’s responses. Keep track of your sleep quality, digestion, mood, energy levels, pain, skin, and anything else that stands out. For instance, maybe that mid-afternoon slump or anxiety is actually a hypoglycemic response to a high carb breakfast. If you notice a pattern, take the questionable ingredient completely out of your diet for at least 30 days. If you don’t notice any change, add it back and see what you discover. What are the causes and effects? Does gluten impact your digestion, cause you to have headaches? Do processed foods make you moody? There is no judgement here. It’s a discovery.
2. Evaluate your mindset
Do you think of some foods as good and some as bad, healthy or unhealthy? Are there things you think you should have or should not have? Why do you believe this? How does this thinking fail to serve you? When we give our food choices morality, we are giving them a power they do not deserve. It disconnects us from our body and our pleasure.
If going out to eat or traveling, check out menus ahead of time. Rather than just looking for things you “can” eat, look for things you can get excited about. If going to a party, go nourished or carry backup. Take something to share, if appropriate.
Knowing yourself means being able to decide on a bite-by-bite basis if something is worth the consequences. There is no right or wrong here.
5. Be present
Once you have made a choice, enjoy it. You are making a decision from a place of self-knowledge. If you have deemed a dish worthy, let go of self-judgement and be present with it. Eat slowly. Enjoy the flavor, the texture, truly take pleasure in what you consume.
6. Give yourself grace
Sometimes the stress of worrying about foods outweighs the negative effects of the foods themselves. If you find that you are stressing, rather than feeling empowered, take a deep breath, revisit your why, and make the best choice for you in the moment.
7. Acknowledge the fruits of your efforts
Did you discover something spectacular, that you wouldn’t have had you not been looking for an alternative? Did you feel more energetic, sleep better, have a better time than you might have otherwise? Acknowledging how your efforts paid off will change the narrative, that foods that are supportive of your health need not steal from your pleasure. These experiences are affirming and encouraging. Recognize them.
What has your internal narrative been regarding special occasions and healthy eating? Have you assumed it true or have you also discovered the joy and pleasure of “missing out?” I’d love to hear your experience or if this resonated with you.